Health care group calls for tort reforms

Chris Rizo Jan. 23, 2009, 7:42am

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Legal Newsline)-A major medical care group on Thursday said liability reform needs to be a part of any meaningful overhaul of the nation's health care system.

The American Medical Group Association, in its overall call for universal access to health care, said systemic changes, including medical malpractice tort reform, are needed to improve access and quality of medical care for Americans.

"While undertaking such thoroughgoing reform will be challenging in these difficult economic times, maintaining our current system will have an even greater cost, in terms not only of finance, but of quality patient care," said AMGA President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Fisher.

In its recommendations to President Barack Obama's administration and Congress, AMGA said frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards continue to drain health care resources.

"These high costs have resulted in physicians avoiding or refusing high-risk cases, reduced access to care, and increased overall health care spending," the group's report said. " Further, most physicians practice defensive medicine, i.e., undertaking unnecessary, duplicative, or excessive diagnostic testing and other treatments as a preemptive measure to stave off accusations of medical negligence or failure to diagnose."

AMGA's 12-page report said tort reform could reduce the cost of medical malpractice claims by placing a cap on non-economic damages.

"With tort reform changes and caps on damages, physicians will have a reduced fear of damaging lawsuits, insurance companies will be able to lower premiums for medical liability insurance, and physicians will regain confidence in high-risk cases like delivering babies and performing high-risk surgeries," the report said. "This change would maximize patient recovery of awarded damages and place structured limits on attorney contingency fees."

The Alexandria, Va.-based group also said individual states should be allowed to enact medical malpractice award caps that are equal to or greater than those for Medicare beneficiaries.

"In order to avoid frivolous lawsuits, penalties should be placed on plaintiffs or attorneys if the court deems lawsuits to be frivolous," the AMGA report noted.

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