Health care reform needs tort reform

LETTER — Posted Jan. 4, 2010

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Where is tort reform in health care reform bills? Liability reform is essential to health care reform. Defensive medicine costs billions, and with our aging population, this cost is going to increase. Reform can be easily accomplished with screening panels, or specialized courts, and not allowing incompetent physicians to shop different states for licensing.

President Obama, speaking before physicians at the AMA House of Delegates last June, got it wrong when he stated: "We just do what you tell us to do." Many patients are not fully compliant. When disaster happens -- cancer, death, MI, etc. -- guess who gets sued? He and the Democrats are siding with the trial lawyers.

The majority of health care dollars pay for the last three to four months of a person's life. Hospice and similar entities could save major money if we as a society approached death differently. Doctors and hospitals do too much to keep the terminally ill alive. One main reason for this is fear of lawsuits and family expectations.

Physicians, especially retired doctors, used to donate their services to indigent and poverty programs throughout the U.S. Guess why this practice is rare? You will never get retired physicians back into action without malpractice reform.

When the government controls health care, we primary care doctors will bankrupt the system just like the current system is being bankrupted. Why? Because no physician is going to go out on that liability limb by restricting access to MRIs, CT scans, etc. Unfortunately, physicians in the U.S. live in a world where every sneeze gets an antibiotic, every headache an MRI, and any abdominal complaint a CT scan.

Here we have the biggest health care reform legislation since Medicare, and no malpractice or tort reform is included? Most doctors I know are very angry that our medical societies failed on this issue.

Health care system reform will not be achieved without malpractice reform.

Paul N. McClintock, MD, Reno, Nev.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2010/01/04/edlt0104.htm.

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