Why Medical Malpractice Is Off Limits

A few thousand trial lawyers have a lock on Democrats, who refuse to consider any legal reform.

WSJ Online Sept 29, 2009
Philip K. Howard

Eliminating defensive medicine could save upwards of $200 billion in health-care costs annually, according to estimates by the American Medical Association and others. The cure is a reliable medical malpractice system that patients, doctors and the general public can trust.

But this is the one reform Washington will not seriously consider. That’s because the trial lawyers, among the largest contributors to the Democratic Party, thrive on the unreliable justice system we have now.

Almost all the other groups with a stake in health reform—including patient safety experts, physicians, the AARP, the Chamber of Commerce, schools of public health—support pilot projects such as special health courts that would move beyond today’s hyper-adversarial malpractice lawsuit system to a court that would quickly and reliably distinguish between good and bad care. The support for some kind of reform reflects a growing awareness among these groups that managing health care sensibly, including containing costs, is almost impossible when doctors go through the day thinking about how to protect themselves from lawsuits.

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