Sept. 30, 2009 05:00

Months into the emotionally charged health care debate, the negative impact that out-of-control litigation is having on our system is finally getting some attention. In a recent speech to Congress, President Obama said what many have long-insisted: Reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. Now, I don’t believe that medical malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I’ve talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs.


In fact, curbing lawsuit abuse to improve health care access and affordability is a no-brainer. The American Medical Association has found that liability pressure increases health system costs by between $84 and $151 billion per year. Meanwhile, a 2006 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that nearly 40 percent of the medical malpractice lawsuits filed in the U.S. were without merit.


Many personal injury lawyers file suit against physicians, hospitals and other health care providers claiming to act in patients’ best interests. But, too often, they’re just preying on the system for their own personal gain.


The time for meaningful medical liability reform is now. As Rep. Charles Boustany, a former cardiovascular surgeon who now represents Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, recently said in a nationally televised speech, we need to establish tough liability reform standards, encourage speedy resolution of claims, and deter junk lawsuits that drive up the cost of care. Real reform must do this.


Indeed, rampant medical liability lawsuits have spawned a culture of defensive medicine where doctors are often forced to order expensive and sometimes dangerous tests to rule out highly improbable diagnoses, simply to protect themselves against lawsuits. These unnecessary tests and procedures do not result in better health outcomes, and the unnecessary costs are inevitably passed along to us in the form of higher insurance premiums and deductibles.


This does not bode well for our health or our wallets.


President Obama and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle must work together on medical malpractice reforms that will help control costs, better protect doctors and, most importantly, better serve patients.