Texas doctors oppose Senate health care plan; Group seeks tort reform

Chris Rizo Nov. 24, 2009, 3:39am

Dr. William III

AUSTIN (Legal Newsline)-The health care overhaul pending in the U.S. Senate requires significant changes before doctors can support the draft plan, the Texas Medical Association says.

The physicians' group said it is overall opposed to the $848 billion Senate plan, aimed at overhauling how the nation's health insurance companies do business.

"We know that our patients -- insured and uninsured, elderly and poor -- need a much more efficient, effective, and accountable health care system," said TMA President Dr. William Fleming III. "But, on the whole, the Senate health plan is bad medicine for our patients."

The Texas Medical Association has called on Congress to "fix what's broken and keep what's good" in the nation's health care system. The group represents about 44,000 physicians in the Lone Star State.

The Senate voted Saturday to advance the mammoth health care overhaul bill offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to the Senate floor for debate.

The legislation -- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- would expand insurance coverage to some-31 million uninsured Americans and bar insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. It would also require most individuals to purchase health coverage either through their employer, on their own or through a public plan.

"The Senate proposal makes some great strides for our patients, such as providing incentives for primary care, requiring health insurance companies to be more accountable, streamlining insurance paperwork and enhancing physicians' access to information technology," said Fleming, a neurologist.

However, the Senate bill does not correct a flawed Medicare payment formula that Congress created in 1997. He said the faulty formula is "directly responsible for the slow erosion of access to care for seniors and the poor."

The Texas Medical Association said it would also like to see certain provisions taken out of the plan, including language that would neither protect Texas' liability reforms nor expand those protections to patients and physicians in other states.

"Despite the partisan quagmire in Washington, we will work in coming weeks with our two U.S. senators to correct these and many other problems we see in the Senate bill," Fleming said. "Right now, it's simply bad medicine for our patients."

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said during the upcoming debate Republicans plan to push for legal reforms and wellness programs, among other measures to help reduce health care costs.

"Don't hold your breath, we are not planning on having a 2,000 page bill," McConnell said in an appearance on CNN.

The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, has said as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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