Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith are continuing to press for answers from the Obama administration about its grant program that was sold to the American people as a means to study medical malpractice reform, but has instead diverted tens of millions of dollars to research, of which the usefulness has yet to be explained by the administration.
The members wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, in April, and again today, asking questions about President Obama's September 9, 2009 address to Congress where he announced an initiative to deal with the rising costs of health care associated with medical malpractice lawsuits.
The members wrote, "Frivolous lawsuits, the high cost of malpractice insurance and excessive damages awards are dragging down our health care system However, the AHRQ's (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) description of the research being funded (through the President's initiative) does not mention, much less emphasize, reforms to medical malpractice laws, as was clearly implied by the President's speech."
The letters call attention to the fact that none of the $23.2 million awarded has gone to researching or implementing "traditional" medical malpractice reforms and that it appears that all of the research funded by the AHRQ is aimed at proving the obvious: as the number of adverse events declines, the number of malpractice lawsuits also declines.
The department's response to the April 3 letter failed to answer the members' questions, including basic, but important, questions such as how the projects will reduce frivolous lawsuits and reduce malpractice insurance premiums, how the projects will directly benefit American taxpayers, and how the projects will lower health care costs.
October 16, 2012
Via Electronic Transmission
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
We write regarding the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) letter dated June 11, 2012 and received by our offices on September 27, 2012, after multiple inquiries.
The letter from the HHS was responding to our April 3, 2012 letter to you. In our letter, we expressed our concerns with the Patient Safety and Medical Liability Reform Demonstration and Planning grants being funded by the HHS.
On September 9, 2009, President Obama, in a speech to a joint session of Congress on health care, directed you to move forward on an initiative aimed at reducing health care costs. On June 11, 2010, pursuant to the President's orders, the HHS, through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), awarded $23.2 million to fund demonstration and planning projects.
Frivolous lawsuits and the high cost of malpractice insurance are dragging down our health care system. The goal of "traditional" medical malpractice reforms is not to hinder meritorious lawsuits, but rather to reduce the incidence of frivolous lawsuits, inflated awards and inflated attorneys' fees. However, the AHRQ's description of the research being funded does not mention, much less emphasize, reforms to medical malpractice laws, as was clearly implied by the President's speech.
The President's September 9, 2009 speech gave the clear impression that taxpayers' monies would be spent, in significant part, on projects related to "traditional" medical malpractice reforms. Contrary to that clear impression, it appears that none of the $23.2 million awarded has gone to researching or implementing "traditional" medical malpractice reforms.
We were concerned that these developments did not fulfill the President's commitment to move forward on medical malpractice reform. Consequently, we wrote to you on April 3 and asked several direct questions and made requests for documents.
After several follow up inquiries, we only recently received a response from the HHS. The HHS' response letter, however, ignores the vast majority of our questions, if not all of them, and did not include any documents.
Accordingly, we are attaching a copy of our April 3 letter and ask that you directly answer all of our questions and produce documents as appropriate.
The HHS's response letter also raises new questions that we would like to have answered:
(A) The June 11, 2010 press release by the AHRQ stated that the "grants [we]re part of the patient safety and medical liability initiative that President Obama announced during a September 9, 2009, address to a joint session of Congress." What is the exact source of the $23.2 million in funding for the demonstration and planning projects and the $2 million in funding for the JBA/RAND evaluation project?
(B) Identify whether Congress expressly approved the demonstration, planning and evaluation projects as well as appropriated the funding for them. If Congress did not expressly approve these projects and their funding, identify the authority for the HHS to initiate and fund these projects, without first receiving approval and appropriations from Congress.
We ask that you provide written answers and documents by October 29, 2012.
Charles E. Grassley Lamar Smith
Ranking Member Chairman
Senate Judiciary Committee House Judiciary Committee
Orrin G. Hatch
Senate Finance Committee