11.29.2010 0

Is 2011 the year when medical malpractice reform finally comes of age?

By Rick Manning

There will be a lot of heat generated in the first month of the 112th Congress as the newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives moves, as they should, to repeal the signature legislation of the Pelosi era — ObamaCare.

It is common knowledge that Harry Reid’s Senate will not vote for repealing the law, so where should the Republicans head from there?

One answer is pass the single most important health care reform that the Pelosi-Reid Congress left off the table — medical malpractice reform.

This makes sense from a cost perspective as the Congressional Budget Office estimated that medical malpractice reform would save $54 billion over the course of the next ten years.

Savings in the cost of insurance premiums doctors are forced to pay, coupled with savings from ending the defensive medical practices that result from fear of frivolous lawsuits which result in doctors ordering multiple expensive tests just to cover themselves.

Medical malpractice reform will not only save money for everyone involved in the delivery of health care, it will increase the availability of health care overall.

Currently, the high cost of medical malpractice insurance is killing the ability of expectant mothers in many parts of this country from having access to pre-natal care. Those who are most affected are low income mothers to be where Medicaid reimbursements don’t cover the cost of providing the services.

Lower the medical malpractice costs to these doctors, and they will be able to afford to provide care to those who can afford it least, but in many cases, need it most.

It isn’t just poor mothers-to-be who are caught in the vice of the high cost of medical malpractice insurance, it is also patients who are attempting to see specialists in high risk fields like neurology.

The high cost of doing business in these high risk medical fields is a major contributing factor to aspiring doctors choosing other, less costly, fields of emphasis. This cost-based choice threatens to leave our aging population fighting over fewer and fewer trained professionals to diagnose and treat our ailments.

House Republicans have the opportunity to force Harry Reid’s Senate Democrats to confront the harsh reality of the deal they have made with the nation’s trial lawyers, and with some aggressive work by Senate Republicans, they would have to make a choice.

In the past two years, the Democrats chose their big money funders in the professional lawsuit industry over the needs of patients to gain access to quality, affordable health care. Republicans, if they hold every vote in their conference, have the opportunity to force them to choose again. While getting 13 votes to invoke cloture may be a bridge too far, it will only require the votes of four vulnerable or already partially supportive Democrats like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jon Tester of Montana, Tom Carper of Delaware and Virginia’s Jim Webb to force Reid into the uncomfortable position of opposing legislation that a majority of the Senate supports.

The imagery of Harry Reid and the Democrats turning their backs on African American expectant mothers who cannot find an obstetrician due to their acquiescence to the wealthy trial bar doesn’t fit nicely into the ObamaCare narrative for the 2012 election, and so the Republicans should have some political leverage.

Who knows? Maybe 2011 will finally be the year when our nation’s lawmakers deal with one of the key factors denying access to medical care and stand up to the powerful trial bar. At least one can hope.

Rick Manning is the Director of Communications for Americans for Limited Government.

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