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Medical Liability System 'Irrational,' AMA Chair Tells Congress

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, January 27, 2011

Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, chair of the American Medical Association, told the House Judiciary Committee this month that the medical liability system is "broken" and "irrational." After her testimony, the House, in bipartisan fashion introduced a measure that would reform the medical liability system. But Hoven concedes she has no idea when such a measure might be realized as law.

Hoven is a specialist in infectious disease medicine and internal medicine based in Lexington, KY. She has been a member of the AMA board of trustees since 2005, and in June 2010 began serving as AMA chair.  With broad experience on many physician-related issues, she says she has testified several times before Congress, but never before the Judiciary Committee.  Recently, she was appointed to the National Advisory Council for Healthcare Research and Quality and has served on numerous AMA boards, including the practicing physicians' advisory board.  

Days after her January 20 testimony calling for "meaningful" medical liability reform, Hoven told me she thought members of Congress heard her message all right, but she didn't offer predictions what they would do. It was interesting that she was invited to speak at one of the first hearings of the 112th Congress. Of all the issue before it, Congress was ready to listen to doctors complain about medical liability: Why?

 "Several people have commented to me: you were invited to speak and this is the first time they've met in this Congress," Hoven told me. "What does that mean? I think it means that, I hope this correct, meaningful medical liability reform is back in a place it should be and we can make some progress on this."

"The cost of medical liability related issues," she says. "There are more definitive numbers now. We have a much better understanding. Doctors were talking for a long time about defensive medicine, but nobody would listen to us. The other piece is the public."

Unlike the past, she insists, "the public recognizes and thinks that the medical liability system is a costly system and dos impact patients as well. You have public concern now, which nobody had paid much attention to before. You have dollars attached to that, and I think people are looking at (medical liability) in a different light than they used to before."

For one thing, the Republicans in the House are digging deep into President Obama's healthcare reform and doing whatever it takes to get rid of it. Whatever they do, however, a potential trap door awaits: the Senate, led by Democrats.

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