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Medical Liability Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Medical Liability Reform

* Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Madam Speaker, I rise today to discuss one aspect of health care reform that, unfortunately, has not received a lot of attention by the Democrat majority. That is the issue of medical liability reform.

* Recently, I spent a couple of days in my district in New Jersey touring hospitals, physician group practices, and long-term care facilities. When talking to the physicians at these facilities, I asked them, ``What issue would you most like to see addressed in health care reform legislation?'' In every single facility I visited, medical liability reform was either at or near the top of the list.

* We know that the surge in malpractice lawsuits over the past 30 years has had a profoundly negative impact on the practice of medicine. And while, obviously, I feel that patients should be compensated for gross negligence by physicians, there is little doubt that our current tort system is broken. More than 60 percent of liability claims against physicians are dropped, withdrawn, or dismissed without payment. In 2007, the average cost of defending these claims was $18,000 per case.

* This has pushed the cost of liability insurance through the roof. The American Medical Association (AMA) has listed my home state of New Jersey as a ``crisis state'' for medical liability. Doctors face liability insurance premium increases that far outpace the already high rate of medical inflation. Some high-risk specialties, such as obstetrics or emergency, face annual premiums of over $100,000 per year. According to a survey conducted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the lack of affordable liability insurance forced 70 percent of OB/GYNs to make changes to their practice. Liability concerns also forced between seven to eight percent of OB/GYNs to stop practicing obstetrics.

* But more important than the direct costs of our tort system are the indirect costs. One pediatrician I spoke to said that he would ``just like to practice medicine without feeling like a lawyer was looking over my shoulder all the time.'' The anxiety that our physicians face from confronting potential lawsuits seriously affects the doctor-patient relationship. Additionally, it drives up the cost of health care by encouraging the practice of ``defensive medicine.'' The AMA estimates that defensive medicine adds somewhere between $84--$151 Billion per year in health care costs to our system. As another doctor I met with said, ``I can waste money like you've never seen. When someone comes into my hospital and needs treatment, I can order every test, every procedure known to man, simply to protect myself from a lawsuit.''

* Even President Obama, in his recent address to the AMA has admitted that medical liability is a serious issue. But despite the support of the President, the medical establishment, and the overwhelming majority of Americans, of the 1,018 pages of H.R. 3200, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, there is not a single page on medical liability reform.

* Madam Speaker, this issue is simply too important for us not to address. Any serious attempt to reform our health care system must reform medical liability.

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