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25 Million in Grants Available to States to Prevent Malpractice Lawsuits

September 18, 2009

CHICAGO - The Senate Finance Committee is ready to get to work on Senator Baucus' health care reform proposal, which includes language that supports ideas to reduce medical malpractice cases. Although there aren't details yet, it could be similar to President Obama's just-unveiled grant program, which will enable states to experiment with ideas such as giving hospitals and doctors the opportunity to apologize for a mistake, or take corrective action. That way, patients might be less likely to sue.

Peter Flowers, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, says in either plan, patient safety and preventing medical errors need to be front-and-center, as well as preserving a patient's right to justice.

"Lawsuits bring to light issues in medicine, issues that can be adjusted and can be reconsidered and can be properly changed."

Limiting medical errors is especially important, says Flowers, because more than 98,000 people die every year from medical mistakes. While there has been talk of federal limits on medical malpractice lawsuits as a way to control health care costs, Flowers says limits don't work in Illinois. The state has capped damages since 2005, and doctors' premiums have not been reduced, as expected. It is a good idea to find ways for hospitals to rectify mistakes and prevent errors, he says, but limiting a person's right to take a case to court is wrong, especially when negligence can result in death, or the need to pay for a lifetime of medical care.

"This is an issue of dignity for people. How can you possibly limit what someone can recover, or take away their right to a jury trial, when, in fact, these are the people that have been hurt?"

Patient safety should not be compromised when health care reformers look for ways to cut costs, he adds. In fact, malpractice costs currently represent less than two percent of all health care spending.

"Malpractice claims really have nothing to do with driving up the cost of care."

Illinois' 2005 law limiting damages in malpractice lawsuits has been challenged in the Illinois Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled on its constitutionality.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL