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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Capitol Hill Watch: Medical Liability Reform

The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report for January 4 does a nice job of collecting the strands of this story: the President's plan to kick-start med-mal reform during the early days of the new 109th Congress:

     President Bush on Wednesday will address more than 1,000 physicians, business leaders and Republican officials in a speech in Collinsville, Ill., aimed at "reining in lawsuits" to stem a rise in medical malpractice premiums, according to Bush spokesperson Jim Morrell, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Keith, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/4). Bush has said he will make medical malpractice reform a priority in his second term to help spur the U.S. economy. The campaign includes three primary reforms: capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, possibly at $250,000; restricting the scope of class-action lawsuits; and limiting lawsuits against makers and sellers of asbestos-filled products. Bush is highlighting Collinsville in his campaign because the town is known for the number of lawsuits filed there (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/3). More than 1,400 asbestos lawsuits and 179 class-action lawsuits were filed in the last two years in Madison County, which includes Collinsville. Illinois Trial Lawyers Association president Kevin Conway said that Bush is "trying to demonize one county as kind of an example of what the entire country looks like." Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said that he hoped Bush's visit to Collinsville would "keep this in the public eye," adding, "Hopefully legislators will continue to realize that this issue will not go away. He's using the bully pulpit as he should" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/4).

Presidential Priority for Health Care
Bush aims to make accessibility to health care one of his priorities in the legislative session that begins Tuesday, he said Monday in a speech to new members of Congress. "I'll call upon Congress to take on big issues, and I look forward to working with members of both parties to do just that," Bush said. He added, "This town is sometimes too partisan and too political. And my hope is ... that we can show the nation that we can come together to achieve big things for the good of the country" (Pickler, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/3).

Editorials
Two recent editorials addressed health policy developments. Summaries are provided below.

New York Times: Improving quality in the U.S. health care system "may be a little lower on the agenda," but the "potential bridges between [both] parties are already clear and sturdy," a Times editorial states. "Pressing ahead on this front should be a no-brainer -- if the Democrats can allow the Republican majority to take most of the credit, and the Republicans can control their urge to bring the poison pill of malpractice tort reform into the discussion," according to the editorial (New York Times, 12/31/04).

Wall Street Journal (requires fee-based subscription): So-called specialty hospitals are "one of the more encouraging new areas of health competition," and elected officials should keep "their hands off" them to encourage market-oriented health care reform, a Journal editorial states. "Hospitals that concentrate on targeted areas," such as cardiac, orthopedic and women's medicine, "can provide superior services at the lower costs that come with efficiencies," the editorial continues. Although Republican legislators have "taken some baby steps" toward adding market-based elements, such as health savings accounts, to the health care system, they must continue to ensure that "consumers have a choice of places to spend those dollars, which means competition among hospitals," according to the editorial (Wall Street Journal, 1/3).

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