President Obama Revives The Medical Liability Debate

Even as action on medical liability reform continues to take place at the state level, there’s been a sense of resignation in Washington, DC of late that the issue would have a hard time seeing the light of day this year or next.

Until, that is, President Obama spoke to the American Medical Association yesterday.

In his speech, the President brought new life to the idea that genuine health reform must include action to address a liability crisis that is having an adverse effect on both the cost and quality of American healthcare.

Before we get too excited, the President did say he didn’t support a solution many of us favor, the use of caps on non-economic damages, but he did make it clear that he was open-minded about putting some form of liability relief on the table.  He said, speaking of the need to make changes in medical practices to control the growth of healthcare costs:

“Now, I recognize that it will be hard to make some of these changes if doctors feel like they’re constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of lawsuits.  I understand some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable.  That’s a real issue.”

Indeed it is a real issue.  Any doctor knows that a test deemed unnecessary can suddenly become the focal point of a malpractice lawsuit.  Defensive medicine does drive escalating healthcare costs and the only way to address it is to do something about a litigation climate that has gotten out of control, particularly in those states that haven’t enacted reforms.

The President deserves credit for resurrecting an issue that needs to be part of the health reform discussion.