Senate Finance chairman calls for legal reforms

By Chris Rizo | Nov 12, 2008

Max Baucus (D)

Paul Rubin

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Reigning in skyrocketing medical costs and enacting health care reform ought to be a priority for President-elect Barack Obama and the next Congress, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance said.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Wednesday outlined his plan to cure what ails the nation's health care system.

"In 2009, Congress must take up and act on meaningful health reform legislation that achieves universal coverage while also addressing the underlying problems in our health system," he said. "The urgency of this task has become undeniable."

Baucus's 89-page plan is a hybrid of Obama's health care proposal combined with some of his own ideas, including establishing an insurance exchange where consumers could go to purchase insurance coverage.

"Once affordable, high-quality, and meaningful health insurance options are available to all Americans through their employees or through the Exchange, individuals would have a responsibility to have health coverage," Baucus wrote in his health care blueprint.

In his "Call to Action" white paper, the senator points to the need to limit malpractice insurance premiums.

He touts a proposal that would provide grants to states to create alternatives to tort litigation in an effort to increase access to recovery for patients with low-dollar value claims and improve satisfaction with claims resolution for patients and providers.

Under the plan, states would have flexibility in developing alternatives to civil litigation by using the early disclosure and compensation model in which health care providers are provided tort liability immunity after an offer is made, in good faith, to pay compensation to any patient injured or harmed.

He said the University of Michigan Health System implemented the system in 2002 "with astounding results," noting that three years after the program was established, UMHS had reduced its annual litigation costs by $2 million and reduced the number of lawsuits.

The plan also includes the administrative determination of compensation model which calls for the establishment of an administrative board to determine the level of compensation awarded to a patient.

The final model is the health court model in which judges with expertise in health care would preside over cases. The judges' decisions regarding compensation would be binding but subject to an appeals process.

Announcing his proposal, which is not in the form of legislation, Baucus said he is eager to work with all interested parties.

"My door is open and I seek partners with 'can do' spirits and open minds," he said. "I believe -- very strongly -- that every American has a right to high-quality health care...and I believe Americans cannot wait any longer."

Emory University economics professor Paul Rubin said while significant tort reform needs to be a part of any overhaul of the nation's health care delivery system, he is doubtful that will happen, at least under the Democratic led Congress.

"The tort bar is part of the Democratic coalition so there will be some internal resistance" to legal reforms suggested by Baucus, he told Legal Newsline. "If I was a betting man, I don't know that I would bet that it will be in the final plan."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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