HLC: Medicare Changes Should Include Med-Mal Damages Cap

NU Online News Service, Sept. 16, 12:26 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON—The healthcare industry is telling the congressional “super committee” that changes in the Medicare program to reduce costs should include medical liability reform.

In a letter to the committee sent this week, the Healthcare Leadership Council says the changes in medical liability laws should include a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, as well as a one-year statute of limitations from the point of injury to the filing of litigation.

The HLC says another change should be a “fair share” rule to have defendants pay damages commensurate with their responsibility for the injury involved.

The proposals on changes to medical liability laws by the Council is part of an effort to ensure that cuts to the Medicare program are shared by participants as well as industry.

The HLC includes big pharmaceutical, medical device and health insurers amongst its members, specifically, Pfizer, Aetna and the Mayo Clinic.

Its members are concerned that the industry will be forced to endure any cuts in the program, and that beneficiaries will not be required to share in the burden.

Mary Grealy, HLC president, says her organization would be open to alternative approaches including linking liability protections to healthcare providers’ use of health information technology and practice of evidence-based medicine.

The super committee, composed of 12 members of Congress, is charged with proposing $1.2 trillion in budget savings by mid-November.

The HLC letter was sent to members of the committee as well as the leadership of both parties in the Senate and House.

Other components of the proposal submitted by the HLC include creating a new “Medicare Exchange” in which private plans would compete on the basis of cost, quality and value; gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67; and reform Medicare’s cost-sharing structure.

The HLC says its recommendations would generate just over $410 billion in budget savings over a 10-year period, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates and other published budget projections.

The Republican majority in the House since the new Congress began work in January have been unable to reach agreement on medical liability reform legislation.

Democrats and Republicans are concerned that the proposals would pre-empt state laws that have worked well in curbing the cost of medical malpractice lawsuits.

Moreover, the CBO projections are that—even with all the changes in federal laws that have been proposed--the maximum savings over 10 years would be only $54 billion out of an annual healthcare expense of $2.2 trillion in the U.S.

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