Opinion

Part 2: Solutions for meaningful health care reform | Rep. Reichert

NOTE: This is the second in a series of four solutions-oriented health care op-eds from Congressman Dave Reichert.

As the debate in the United States Congress continues over needed health care reform, much of the conversation turns on aspects legislators oppose, rather than proposals for the innovative ideas and creative solutions that will carry us down the path to meaningful, effective reform.

I voted against the $1.3 trillion government-run health overhaul bill because the proposal threatened to raise Americans’ health care costs, reduce choice, and allowed government interference in personal medical decisions. This op-ed is the second in a series that is dedicated to describe those ideas and solutions I do support and believe will deliver the access to quality, affordable care that every American deserves.

I remain committed to protecting and strengthening health care: Protecting Americans from increased health care costs, losing the health plans they currently have and wish to keep, and government interference in medical decisions; and strengthening health care by ensuring that better quality, more affordable care is available for everyone.

It is well recognized that the rising cost of health care is a central challenge to individuals, families and businesses; over the past decade, health care costs have more than doubled. Meaningful medical liability reform is one key way we can begin to lower health care costs, improve patient safety, and address pressing problems within our current health care system.

The Congressional Budget Office recently has found that medical liability reform proposals, such as H.R. 1086, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2009, would save the federal government $54 billion over the course of 10 years, and would reduce national health care spending by $11 billion per year. I support this common-sense policy, and in fact stood with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to press for its inclusion in the final health care legislation, because it would cost nothing to implement and stands to offer Americans significant savings.

Recent studies have also shown that liability reform not only lowers the cost of liability insurance for doctors, but also lowers health care costs generally through reducing the use of defensive medicine practices that include unnecessary tests and services – services that physicians order to protect themselves from lawsuits, but that have the effect of driving up insurance premiums.

One model worthy of evaluation is the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA), which includes caps on non-economic damages, periodic payments for future damages, and a sliding scale for attorney fees. Not only has this legislation saved California consumers tens of billions of dollars, but it has also preserving patients’ access to care. And according to the Texas Medical Board, following medical liability reform legislation enactment in 2003 Texas has seen a 17.5-percent increase in licensed doctors and the addition of more than 30 doctors in rural county emergency rooms.

While working to implement comprehensive liability reform, other creative solutions hold promise to address the problems in our existing liability system. Two such proposals are health courts and implementing requirements for expert witnesses at trial. Both of these solutions offer real reform to bring down the skyrocketing cost of health care.

Health courts would shift malpractice cases to a forum where judges with special training in medical liability preside over such cases, and in these courts witnesses and experts would be required to meet set qualifications. In the absence of health courts, states could set statutory qualifications governing those who may testify as medical expert witnesses at trial, ensuring those who present information have expertise relevant to the case at hand.

It is clear that medical liability reform is one solution that holds potential to transform our health care system, and is yet another example of the strategies we must evaluate to protect patients, lower costs and improve delivery of care. Congress should include such measures as part of any final legislation, and I will continue to push for these important components to reform.

Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Washington’s Eighth Congressional District. Reichert serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Source: King County Health Reform Initiative Fact Sheet, 2005-2009

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