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White House Seeks Ways to Curb Malpractice Suits

White House Seeks Ways to Curb Malpractice Suits

(Source: Associated Press)

Associated Press/AP Online

September 17, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Thursday announced $25 million in grants for states and health care systems to experiment with alternatives to costly medical malpractice lawsuits, an issue that long has divided Washington.

The grants, up to $3 million each for three years, can cover a range of ideas, including programs in which doctors and hospitals quickly acknowledge a mistake, offer an apology and restitution, and pledge to take corrective action.

The Health and Human Services Department will review existing programs to determine what works and which ones deserve grant money.

How to rein in the costs associated with medical malpractice – costly suits and doctors’ high premiums, for example – has kept lawmakers and interest groups at odds for years.

More Government News

Doctors’ groups, with the support of conservatives, want national limits on jury awards for a patient’s pain and suffering. Trial lawyers, backed by Democrats, say that would harm aggrieved patients and their families who are seeking restitution.

Preventable medical errors are estimated to cause 44,000 to 98,000 deaths a year.

President Barack Obama last week said that while he didn’t see malpractice changes as a “silver bullet,” he had talked to enough doctors to suspect that fear of litigation contributes to unnecessary costs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Washington should learn from what states are doing on this subject. “States are the laboratories of innovation,” said Sebelius, a former Kansas governor.

In a statement, the American Association for Justice, which represents lawyers, said it was critical that the demonstration projects preserve people’s right to a trial by jury.

“The details matter significantly, but any efforts to limit patients’ rights are not acceptable,” said the group’s president, Anthony Tarricone.

© YellowBrix 2009

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