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Jan. 20, 2011

In Attempt to Limit Patients’ Rights, Republicans Trot Out Tired - and False - Arguments About Medical Liability

Statement of Christine Hines, Consumer and Civil Justice Counsel, Public Citizen

It’s telling that before the membership of the House Judiciary Committee for the 112th Congress was even finalized, incoming chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) scheduled a hearing on medical liability. The new House leadership apparently can’t wait to get started in pushing forward draconian measures to limit patients’ rights. It is heeding its party’s talking points without noticing the facts.

Today’s hearing, creatively called “Medical Liability Reform - Cutting Costs, Spurring Investment, Creating Jobs,” will undoubtedly dig up the same old arguments trotted out in years past to support policies that would absolve negligent medical providers of responsibility for actions that injure or kill their patients.

Despite the fact that malpractice litigation and payments are at historic lows, according to the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank, proponents of limiting patients’ rights continue to incorrectly blame ideas like “runaway jury awards” and “defensive medicine” for the nation’s escalating health care costs.

Of all people, Chairman Smith should know that liability limits do not curb health care costs. For example, yesterday in a FoxNews.com editorial, Chairman Smith claimed that malpractice liability limits in Texas have been a success and that they reduced health care premiums in his home state. However, according to official U.S. Census Bureau data, the state’s uninsured rate and health insurance costs have more than doubled since the state’s liability reforms took effect in 2003. Further, closing the courthouse doors to patients in Texas has not alleviated expensive medical tests. The cost of diagnostic testing in Texas (measured by per patient Medicare reimbursements) has grown 50 percent faster than the national average. Texas’ liability system is clearly not the solution for the country, much less Texas.

Bailing out negligent doctors and limiting individual patients’ rights will neither save us money nor protect patients from harm.

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