Op-Ed: Tort Reform Crucial For Health Care Reform To Work
Last week, President Obama gave his 28th address regarding health care reform. His remarks were again strong on "hope and change," but unfortunately lacking in substance and detail.
Despite hundreds of town halls across the country, it appears the President has not heard what Americans are saying about health care reform.
During my August town halls, I heard the message loud and clear from thousands of constituents. Americans are not willing to hand over the decision-making process about their personal health to government employees in Washington. They understand that there are ways to improve the current system without reducing the quality of health care. Enacting tort reform is the first step.
Doctors and insurance companies pay billions of dollars annually to defend themselves against medical malpractice suits. The current system rightly allows patients to sue for the money lost or additional costs incurred because of malpractice. But the "pain and suffering" component allows trial lawyers to abuse the system. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, 40 percent of medical malpractice suits filed in the U.S. are "without merit."
Despite the frivolous nature of many of these suits, juries often award hundreds of millions of dollars to the plaintiffs. There is no way to predict these costs, so every doctor must purchase malpractice insurance at extraordinary expense to protect against frivolous lawsuits. A Department of Health and Human Services study found that unlimited excessive damages add $70-$126 billion annually to health-care costs.
Doctors are so concerned about frivolous lawsuits that they order unnecessary -- and expensive -- tests and procedures that are of no benefit to the patient. The Massachusetts Medical Society found that 83 percent of its doctors practice defensive medicine. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the national cost of defensive medicine is more than $60 billion.
The costs of litigation and defensive medicine are then passed off to you, the patient, in the price of your health care.
That's why some states, including Texas, enacted tort reform to limit the amount of damages that can be awarded for pain and suffering. The result? More than 14,000 doctors returned or set up new practices in the state. That means Texans pay less to have better health care and more options.
In his speech to Congress, the president said he wants to establish "demonstration projects" to measure the effectiveness of tort reform. But we don't need to "demonstrate" that tort reform is effective; it's already been proven in the states where it has been enacted.
America's health care system has the best physicians, surgeons and medical facilities in the world. We can improve this system by reducing costs and increasing the number of insured without government option that may result in higher taxes, rationed care and decisions made by government employees rather than patients and doctors.
Tort reform can eliminate tens of billions of dollars in health care costs. If the president is serious about reducing health-care costs, we don't need to test tort reform. We need to enact it.