GOP leaders are vowing to make tort reform a key part of their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act. Critics say the political agenda isn't addressing the bigger goal of reducing overall patient harm.
This article first appeared January 3, 2017 on Kaiser Health News.
By Chad Terhune
As top Republicans see it, a medical malpractice crisis is threatening U.S. health care: Frivolous lawsuits are driving up malpractice insurance premiums and forcing physicians out of business. Doctors and hospitals live in fear of litigation, ordering excessive tests and treatments that make health care unaffordable for Americans.
That's why Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Tom Price, tapped to be the nation's top health official by President-elect Donald Trump, are vowing to make tort reform a key part of their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.
But, according to researchers and industry experts, the reality doesn't match the GOP rhetoric. They say the nation's medical malpractice insurance industry is running smoothly and the last crisis dates back more than a decade.
"It's a wonderful time for doctors looking for coverage and it's never been better for insurers," said Michael Matray, editor of Medical Liability Monitor, a trade publication.
Doctors are paying less for malpractice insurance than they did in 2001 — without any inflation adjustment, according to the Doctors Company, one of the nation's largest malpractice insurers. And the rate of claims has dropped by half since 2003.
"It's a time of relative calm and this hasn't been a front burner issue or crisis," said Nicholas Pace, a researcher who studies the civil justice system at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank. "But now Republicans see an opportunity to make changes they have wanted for a long time as they replace Obamacare."
Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.