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Dash of Pepper

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No "test markets needed"
By SHEILAH PEPPER
The Gazette Staff

One major source of out-of-control costs in our medical care system is the result of the price of malpractice premiums doctors are forced to pay in most states.
The fear of lawsuits pushes doctors to be ultra-cautious and order as many tests as possible. This is known as ‘defensive medicine' and it pushes costs up considerably across-the-board and adds to the burden on the system.
Recently, the President said he might be open to the idea of malpractice (tort) reform. He said, however, that we might want to test this out in some selected places across the country. He even made a gesture to request the secretary of health and human service to do a study. Good luck on that and anyway, the study has already been done in several states!
Frankly, given the huge power of the trial lawyers in the Democratic Party, I think the President was just throwing out a red herring. Or, possibly, he is very poorly informed.
According to a recent article by Newt Gingrich, over 30 years ago, California enacted landmark legislation - the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. According to Californians Allied for Patient Protection, the law "has saved health care consumer tens of billions of dollars." The law ensures that injured patients are compensated but preserves access to care by keeping doctors, nurses, and other providers in practice and hospitals and clinics open. Before the reform, the state faced a crisis. Hospitals, clinics and doctors, especially those in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and neurosurgery, were leaving the profession or going out of business due to skyrocketing malpractice premiums.
Texas is another more recent example. In 2003 the state enacted comprehensive legal reform, including appropriate limits on non-economic damages, known as compensation for "pain and suffering."
According to the Texas Medical Board, more than 10,000 doctors have either returned to the state or decided to move to Texas as a result of the reforms. Communities in Texas that were once underserved now have access to both primary and specialty care.
Additionally, the economic benefits have been substantial.
As a direct result of the reform efforts, almost 500,000 jobs moved to Texas, many of these in areas directly or indirectly related to the medical system. Also, almost 430,00 Texans who were previously uninsured now have health insurance.
In other states, Missouri and Georgia adopted reforms in 2005 and Mississippi enacted civil justice (tort) reform measures in 2002 and 2004. Oklahoma's reform measures will become effective in that state next month. Each of these states was threatened with a physician shortage due to large malpractice premiums.
Gingrich also notes, that by contrast, states without liability reforms continue to suffer shortages of providers, leading to the closing of hospitals and trauma centers leaving patients with no doctors in their immediate vicinity.
For example, 19 maternity centers have closed in Philadelphia since 1997. The waiting period for gynecological care for a new patient in the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania area is six to nine months.
In New York, another state without reforms, eight counties are without obstetricians.
Defensive medicine wastes both the patient's and the doctor's time and costs an estimated $100 billion to $200 billion a year.
Three simple steps could achieve huge cost saving in our medical system. One - institute tort reform. Two, portability - that is, you take your coverage with you when you change jobs. Three - give Americans the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines. Right now, you can choose a competitive price on car insurance, but not on health care plans. It's so simple compared to the dreadful mish-mash the Congress is currently considering.
On the tort reform question, we don't need a study as the President suggested. The studies already have been done in the states mentioned above.
But, as I said at the start, it's all a red herring. The Democrats are owned, lock, stock and barrel by the powerful trial lawyers lobby. What a pity.
Copyright©2009SheilahPepper

 

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