Medical Liability Reform Group Praising Senate Leaders for Their Efforts to Improve System

February 18, 2004

The Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Health Care (CARH), an organization of health care providers and others dedicated to medical liability reform, this week praised new efforts by U.S. Senate leaders to bring balance to the medical justice system and reduce medical liability costs that are reportedly crippling access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has expressed his intention to call for a floor vote on the Healthy Mothers Act of 2004 shortly after the Senate returns from recess Feb. 23. The legislation seeks to reduce escalating medical liability costs for obstetrical services by adopting proven reforms that protect patients by reducing frivolous lawsuits.

In July 2003, Senate Democrats opposed to reform blocked a motion to proceed on a broader version of the bill. Despite a majority (49-48) of U.S. Senators’ approval to close debate and proceed to a vote on the legislation, supporters failed to obtain the 60 votes required to stop the filibuster.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive medical liability reform bill, the HEALTH Act (H.R.5), in March 2003.

John Thomas, president of CARH and senior vice president of the Baylor Health Care System, responded in a statement, noting:

“Patients continue to lose access to quality, timely medical care all
across this country as their doctors leave practice or retire early, their hospitals close their trauma units, or their nursing homes file for
bankruptcy. Obstetrics, as a specialty, has been particularly hard-hit by this crisis because of the high-risk nature of the services.

“Without reforms now, more and more women will be left to deliver on the side of a highway like Melinda Sallard in Arizona last year. Services of physicians and hospitals are being eliminated in many communities across this country.

“CARH supports legislation that contains proven reform measures. The broad-based reform bill that Senate Democrats effectively filibustered last summer contained just such provisions – provisions like a cap on non-economic damages and limits on contingency fees for personal injury lawyers. We know they work because identical provisions have kept liability costs at reasonable rates in California over the past 30 years, as compared to rates in the rest of the country.

“If those in the Senate standing in the way of reform won’t give relief to providers across the board, then perhaps they’ll offer relief to America’s expectant mothers by passing the Healthy Mothers Act. Women in Nevada deserve pre-natal care. Women with difficult pregnancies in North Carolina need to know that their doctor will be there for them. Women in all states need their elected officials to put politics aside and pass meaningful medical liability reforms at a national level this year.”

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