Lawsuit watchdog group says health care reforms incomplete without liability reform

The SE Texas Record Sep. 3, 2009, 3:00am

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) is calling on Congress to focus on spiraling medical liability lawsuits as part of any meaningful reform package to rein in health care costs.

"Our leaders in Washington want to talk about meaningful reform and reining in costs to make health care more affordable, but they refuse to address the medical liability elephant in the room," said Diane Davis with East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse.

"Lawsuits and liability costs amount to an enormous 'surcharge' on America's health care."

According to Connie Scott, with Bay Area CALA in Corpus Christi, President Obama talked about overhauling our health care system and lowering costs for everyone at a recent meeting of the American Medical Association.

He even told the doctors that "excessive defensive medicine," conducted out of fear of lawsuits, should be limited. But in the next breath, Obama said he won't support efforts to rein in one of the biggest healthcare cost drivers: runaway medical liability lawsuits, Scott said.

"You can't expand access to healthcare, keep doctors in the examining room, and control costs while letting healthcare lawsuits spin out of control," Scott said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that health care providers were likely to spend more than $30 billion in 2008 to defend against and pay medical liability claims.

Medical liability concerns impose costs on the health care system that force a staggering 3.4 million Americans to the rolls of the uninsured every year, according to the Pacific Research Institute.

"Even baseless cases cost money to defend or settle and health care consumers ultimately inherit those costs," noted Michelle Martin, executive director of CALA of Houston.

"Americans clearly understand what's driving healthcare costs in this country. According to a recent national survey, the majority of voters believe that the most effective way to lower health care costs is to reform medical liability laws to reduce the number of baseless lawsuits against doctors and hospitals," said Stephanie Gibson, executive director of CALA of Central Texas. "Simply put: without legal reforms, you can't make a dent in health care costs."

CALAs are urging Washington leaders to look to Texas to see how access to health care improves when medical liability reforms take hold.

Due to changes approved by Texas voters in 2003, Texas now has sensible medical liability laws that have allowed doctors and other health care professionals to spend more time in the exam room and not the court room.

Texas has more doctors practicing statewide and licensed 3,621 new doctors in 2008, the highest number of any year on record.

"Congress should listen to what Texans already know: Until you fix the medical liability lawsuit problem, the health care system will stay broken," said Bill Summers, founder and president of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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