AAFP Voices Support for Medical Liability Reform Legislation

January 26, 2011 06:50 pm News Staff

The AAFP and a number of other health care organizations have signed on to a letter supporting medical liability reform legislation introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey, M.D., R-Ga., that, according to Gingrey, is designed to lower health care costs while strengthening the physician/patient relationship.

[Stock photo of judge's gavel and stethoscope]

The letter, which was circulated by the AMA and signed by numerous other physician organizations, including the AAFP, says the legislation "includes significant reforms that will help repair our nation's medical liability system, reduce the growth of health care costs and preserve patients' access to medical care."

Gingrey's bill, H.R. 5(www.opencongress.org), which is known as the Help Efficient Accessible Low-cost Timely Healthcare, or HEALTH, Act of 2011, is based on California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. It is similar to medical liability legislation introduced in the House and supported by the AAFP in the past. Among other things, the bill would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 per case and ensure that physicians are liable only for the portion of a procedure in which they are at fault. The measure also would limit the number of years a plaintiff has to file a legal claim against physicians and other health care professionals.

Obama Pledges Support for Medical Liability Reform During Annual Address

During his Jan. 25 State of the Union address, President Obama vowed to work with Congress to support state reforms of medical malpractice systems to reduce costs and improve care. "I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits," said Obama.

According to a fact sheet(www.whitehouse.gov) issued by the White House shortly before the president delivered his address, Obama has pledged to work with Republicans and build on efforts already under way to assess what works in medical malpractice reform.

"The AAFP is pleased that, in his State of the Union address, President Obama pointed to medical liability reform as a mechanism to bring down health care costs," said AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., of Waco, Texas.

"This bill provides the right balance of reforms by promoting speedier resolutions to disputes, maintaining access to courts, maximizing patient recovery of damage awards with unlimited compensation for economic damage while limiting noneconomic damages to a quarter million dollars," the letter says. At the same time, the HEALTH Act "protects effective state medical liability reform laws."

Gingrey, an OB-Gyn and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been involved in efforts to reform the nation's medical liability system since 2006. He introduced the HEALTH Act with Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chair of the House Judiciary Committee -- where the legislation will be debated -- and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga.

The House has passed similar bills in the past, but the legislation has always died in the Senate.

"It is time for Congress to enact meaningful medical liability reform legislation to repair the current litigious climate that continues to increase health care costs and compromise access to care," says the letter.