U.S. Human Services Chief Thompson Hopes ‘Early Offers’ Pilot Will Reduce Medical Error Litigation

September 22, 2004

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has announced an “Early Offers” pilot program aimed at encouraging settlements of patients claiming to have been injured by medical mistakes. HHS hopes the program will help control health care costs by providing prompt compensation without time-consuming and expensive litigation.

Thompson said the initiative could serve as a national model for resolving medical liability cases in a more efficient manner.

“Excessive litigation and jury awards have led to increased premiums and higher health care costs for all and made it more difficult for patients to get care. No patient has ever been healed by a lawsuit,” he told a New Hampshire audience.

The early offers pilot program, which goes into effect immediately, applies to claims made against the Department of Health and Human Services by patients who are treated by employees of federally funded community health centers overseen by HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration or by patients who receive service through Indian Health Service (IHS) programs. Participation by any injured patient is voluntary.

A person who has filed a claim with the HHS is permitted to make an offer to settle the case for a specified amount within 90 days after receiving a letter from HHS notifying them their claim has been received and informing them of the program. HHS has the same opportunity to make an offer within the 90 days by stating how much compensation it is willing to provide. Offers are made confidently with an independent third party who will compare the offers to determine if settlement has been achieved.

To encourage the parties to make offers, neither the injured patient nor the department will know if the other has filed an offer with the independent third party. If both do file offers, and the amount the department offers to pay is greater than or equal to the amount the injured patient is willing to accept, the third party will inform the parties that a settlement has been reached in the amount the claimant requested.

“The department is making this program available so that patients who bring claims for injuries caused by negligence can be compensated fairly, in a timely manner, and without having to go to court,” Secretary Thompson said. “This is an important step in reforming our medical liability system and we hope that other providers of care will implement a plan like early offers to encourage quick and fair settlements of claims for more patients.”

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