President Bush Calls on Congress To Pass Legislation To Limit Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
President Bush on Wednesday in a speech in Collinsville, Ill., launched a "campaign for sweeping changes in the nation's civil justice system" and asked Congress to "take immediate action" to limit medical malpractice lawsuits, which he said have led to increased malpractice insurance costs and reduced access to care for patients, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 1/6).
Bush, who has said that he will make malpractice reform a priority in his second term, supports a cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits, possibly at $250,000; restrictions on the scope of class-action lawsuits; and limits on lawsuits against manufacturers and marketers of products that contain asbestos (California Healthline, 1/5).
In addition, Bush hopes to eliminate noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits except in "egregious cases where they are justified" and allow defendants to pay jury awards in malpractice lawsuits over time, rather than as a lump sum, according to White House documents, the AP/St. Petersburg Times reports. Bush also hopes to limit the time in which patients who allegedly experience malpractice could file lawsuits (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 1/6).
Bush has said that he would protect pharmaceutical and medical device companies from certain damages in malpractice lawsuits related to products approved by FDA (California Healthline, 1/5).
In a summary, the White House said that the malpractice reforms that Bush has proposed would protect patients and "stop the skyrocketing costs associated with frivolous lawsuits." The summary said, "Frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards are driving many health care providers out of communities and forcing doctors to practice overly defensive medicine. This reduces access to medically necessary services and raises the costs of health care for all" (New York Times, 1/6). According to the Chicago Tribune,
Bush on Thursday plans to return to Washington, D.C., to discuss the reform proposals in a bipartisan meeting (Silva, Chicago Tribune, 1/6).
Under a banner that read, "affordable health care," Bush in his speech said that "voters made their position" on malpractice "clear on Election Day" and that he would use the mandate to enact reform proposals this year (New York Times, 1/6). Collinsville is located in Madison County, Ill., which some have called "America's Class-Action Capital" because of the high number of lawsuits filed, the Washington Times reports (Lakely, Washington Times, 1/6).
Bush said, "What's happening all across this country is that lawyers are filing baseless suits against hospitals and doctors. ... They know the medical liability system is tilted in their favor" (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 1/6). He added, "Because the system is so unpredictable, there is a constant risk of being hit by a massive jury award. It's a system that is just not fair. It's costly for doctors, it's costly for small businesses, it's costly for hospitals, it's really costly for patients" (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 1/6).
He continued, "America's health care professionals should be focused on fighting illnesses, not on fighting lawsuits" (Baker, Washington Post, 1/6). "What I'm here to do is to ... say as clearly as I can the United States Congress needs to pass real medical liability reform this year," Bush said (Benedetto, USA Today, 1/6).
He added, "Medical liability reform is a national issue, and it requires a national solution" (Los Angeles Times, 1/6).
Bush said that Madison County -- which has served as the location for several lawsuits that resulted in high jury awards, such as a $10.1 billion verdict against Philip Morris USA last year -- represents the problems with malpractice cases that he hopes to address (Washington Times, 1/6). The number of class-action lawsuits filed in Madison County increased from two in 1998 to 106 in 2003, the Post reports.
However, according to the Post, Madison County and adjacent St. Clair County "provide a more complicated paradigm" for malpractice lawsuits "than the president presented." Among about 700 malpractice and wrongful-death lawsuits filed in Madison and St. Clair counties from 1996 to 2003, only 14 resulted in verdicts, according to a study conducted by the Belleville News-Democrat. Only six of the verdicts favored the plaintiffs, and two did not involve jury awards that exceeded $250,000.
Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, said that the problem in the counties has resulted because of certain judges who refuse to support businesses, rather than the legal system (Washington Post, 1/6).
According to the Washington Times, opponents of the malpractice reforms Bush has proposed maintain that the president is "merely trying to shield drug companies, insurance providers and doctors from the only recourse for injured parties" (Washington Times, 1/6).
"Whether it's big corporations or members of Congress, it's wrong to have one set of rules for those in power and another for everyone else," Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, adding, "When drug companies or HMOs hurt people, they should be held to account, just like everyone else. Yet, the president's medical malpractice plan is nothing but a shameful shield for drug companies and health maintenance organizations that hurt people through negligence."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, "We already knew the ways the president's plan helps the insurance companies, but this week we learned that it also sides with the drug companies over consumers by letting drug makers off the hook when patients are injured by drugs." He added, "If Congress is serious about controlling rising medical malpractice insurance premiums, then we must enact tough insurance reforms to promote real competition in the insurance industry" (Washington Times, 1/6).
Todd Smith, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, said that the proposals would not "do anything about the 99% of health care costs that are really out of control: escalating drug costs ... outrageous hospital bills and record insurance profits" (USA Today, 1/6).
Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, said, "With a Republican House and a Republican Senate, all forces are coming together to try to pass something like this. Unfortunately, it is consumers and the public at large that is going to suffer" (Chicago Tribune, 1/6).
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "Many good doctors are innocent victims of skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums. Many good people are innocent victims of medical malpractice. Lawyers who exploit the system for injured patients must be curbed. A health care system that allows too many medical errors must be fixed, and insurance companies that exploit doctors and patients with exorbitant premium increases must be held accountable."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "If the president is serious about bringing down health care costs, Senate Democrats stand ready to work with him." However, he added, "Congress should not be giving a free pass to big drug companies at a time when millions of Americans may have had their health put at risk by pharmaceutical giants" (New York Times, 1/6).
Republican congressional leaders, who will make the reforms proposed by Bush a priority this month, plan to introduce bills to limit malpractice lawsuits and to shift more class-action cases from state to federal courts.
According to CQ Today, the malpractice legislation is the "more contentious" of the two bills because of a provision that would protect pharmaceutical and medical device companies from certain damages in malpractice lawsuits related to products approved by FDA. Opponents have criticized the provision as a "gift" to pharmaceutical companies and "say it is especially egregious in light of recent safety concerns involving prescription painkillers," such as the COX-2 inhibitors Vioxx and Bextra, CQ Today reports (Stern/Schuler, CQ Today, 1/5).
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) on Tuesday said that the House will address the malpractice bill early this year (Adams/Schuler, CQ Today, 1/5).
However, the legislation likely will prove a "tough sell in the Senate," which blocked a similar bill passed by the House last year. Republicans do not have the votes required to override a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, but supporters of the bill predict that "they can prevail by arguing that rising malpractice insurance premiums are driving up health care costs," CQ Today reports (Stern/Schuler, CQ Today, 1/5).
- "Bush in State To Push Tort Reform" (McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times, 1/6).
- "Bush Sets Out To Limit Medical Liability Suits" (Hutcheson, Miami Herald, 1/6).
- "Bush Calls for Congress To Curb Medical Awards This Year" (Hampel/Lamb, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/5).
- CNN's "Crossfire": Guests on the program included Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.) (Begala/Carlson, "Crossfire," CNN, 1/5). The complete transcript is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Bush and Reid (Gregory, "Nightly News," NBC, 1/5). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Bush and Frank Clemente, director of Congress Watch at Public Citizen (Gonyea, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/5). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner discusses the politics of malpractice reform (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/5). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes comments from Bush; Doroshow; and Dr. Robert Hamilton, past president of the Madison County Medical Society (Dentzer/Ifill, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 1/5). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "Nightly Business Report": The segment includes comments from Doroshow; Karen Ignagni, CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans; and Mark Seigel, an obstetrician who charges patients an administrative fee to cover the cost of malpractice insurance premium increases (Woods, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 1/5). The complete transcript is available online.