Clyburn doubtful health care reform will emerge from Congress this year

By Chris Rizo | Jan 26, 2009

James Clyburn (D)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)- An industry group pushing Congress to overhaul the nation's health care system -- including medical malpractice laws -- got some grim news Sunday from a leading House Democrat.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said in an appearance on CSPAN's "Newsmakers" program that he doubts major health care legislation will emerge this year.

As for how to proceed on health care reform, Clyburn said lawmakers ought to take an incremental approach to retooling the nation's health care system.

"I would much rather see it done that way, incrementally, than to go out and just bite something you can't chew. We've been down that road. I still remember 1994," Clyburn said, referring to then-President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton's health care plan, which failed to pass the Democratic led-Congress.

Clyburn's remarks come just days after the American Medical Group Association called on President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress to move forward on a significant health care overhaul.

In a report released Thursday, the Alexandria, Va.-based group said changing medical malpractice laws are among the range of reforms needed to improve access and quality of medical care for Americans.

"While undertaking such thoroughgoing reform will be challenging in these difficult economic times, maintaining our current system will have an even greater cost, in terms not only of finance, but of quality patient care," AMGA President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Fisher said in releasing the report.

In its recommendations to Capitol Hill and the White House, the AMGA report said frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards continue to drain health care resources.

"These high costs have resulted in physicians avoiding or refusing high-risk cases, reduced access to care, and increased overall health care spending," the group's report said. " Further, most physicians practice defensive medicine, i.e., undertaking unnecessary, duplicative, or excessive diagnostic testing and other treatments as a preemptive measure to stave off accusations of medical negligence or failure to diagnose."

AMGA's 12-page report said tort reform could reduce the cost of medical malpractice claims by placing a cap on non-economic damages.

"With tort reform changes and caps on damages, physicians will have a reduced fear of damaging lawsuits, insurance companies will be able to lower premiums for medical liability insurance, and physicians will regain confidence in high-risk cases like delivering babies and performing high-risk surgeries," the report said.

"This change would maximize patient recovery of awarded damages and place structured limits on attorney contingency fees."

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

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