President Bush Calls Medical Malpractice Reform a Priority
President Bush on Wednesday told participants in a two-day economic summit in Washington, D.C., that he is "passionate" about curbing medical malpractice lawsuits and that passing legal reform legislation will be a "priority" in his second term, the Washington Times reports (Lakely, Washington Times, 12/16). At the conference Wednesday, Bush focused on what he called the "class-action meat grinder" -- malpractice lawsuits that are "driving really fine, competent people out of the medical practice" -- and asbestos lawsuits (Weisman, Washington Post, 12/16).
He said, "I told you, and I'm going to tell you again: This is a priority issue for not only me but for a lot of people in the Senate." He added that malpractice lawsuit legislation is "being blocked by a few in the United States Senate, and the trial bar has made this the number one issue for them. We cannot have the legal system to be a legal lottery" (Washington Times, 12/16). Bush said, "I intend to take a legislative package to Congress which says we expect the House and Senate to pass meaningful liability reform on asbestos, on class action and medical liability" (Washington Post, 12/16). The president also said he would make the issue a topic of his State of the Union address next month (Washington Times, 12/16).
Participants at the forum -- who were selected by the White House -- unanimously endorsed Bush's plan to limit malpractice suits, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. According to the Inquirer, forum participants included a Mississippi drugstore owner who claims to have had to end her business because of lawsuits, an Ohio gynecologist who ended her practice because of high malpractice insurance costs and a patient of that gynecologist who said she is looking for a new doctor. All the participants "blamed" trial lawyers for the situation with malpractice insurance, the Inquirer reports (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16). Bush's appearance at the legal reform panel "signaled the priority the administration is putting on new restraints on lawsuits," according to the San Francisco Chronicle (Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/16).
George Priest, a Yale University professor of law and economics, said if the Senate passes a bill that would shift class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts, it would be "a step, but a small step" toward scaling back large class-action lawsuits (Washington Post, 12/16). According to the Chronicle, Priest "conceded that lawsuits have improved health and safety but argued that their costs have risen far beyond their benefits" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/16). Robert Nardelli, Home Depot CEO, told conference attendees, "What you have today is business on one side, and you've got trial lawyers on the other side. ... You've got deep pockets colliding with shallow principles" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16).
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "Unfortunately, day one of the administration's 'economic summit' seems like little more than a collection of like-minded individuals who are intent on pushing a preordained partisan agenda rather than conducting an open, honest dialogue on issues that require broad bipartisan support" (Washington Times, 12/16). Todd Smith, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, in a statement said, "President Bush's economic plan pretends that taking away the legal rights of American families will reduce health care costs. He unashamedly advocates legislation that would protect insurance industry profits and prohibit any punishment for the makers of dangerous drugs like Vioxx, while penalizing your mother for being abused in a nursing home or your daughter for having her baby killed by medical malpractice" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16).
CBS' "Evening News" on Wednesday reported on Bush's plan for medical malpractice reform (Brzezinski, "Evening News," CBS, 12/15). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
In addition, WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show," an NPR-syndicated program, on Wednesday included a discussion of the medical malpractice reform. Guests on the program included William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, and Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy (Roberts, "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 12/15). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer and Windows Media.