WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A majority of Americans say tort reform measures should be taken to drive down healthcare costs, a new poll shows.
At a time when the U.S. Senate is mulling legislation that would reshape health care in the country and the need for medical liability measures is being debated, a Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday shows 57 percent of voters feel caps on damages should be placed on medical malpractice suits.
Forty-seven percent of those polled also believe tort reform can help ease healthcare costs, while 28 percent do not and 25 percent are undecided.
The Senate plan, opposed by all 40 Republicans, lacks legal reforms such as a cap on medical malpractice awards -- something sought by doctors.
"We know that our patients -- insured and uninsured, elderly and poor -- need a much more efficient, effective, and accountable healthcare system," Texas Medical Association President Dr. William Fleming III recently said. "But, on the whole, the Senate health plan is bad medicine for our patients."
According to the Rasmussen Reports poll, 60 percent believe the plan will increase the cost of health care and 49 percent rate the current system as good or excellent. Still, 53 percent say major changes are needed.
Fifty-one percent of Democrats polled say caps should be placed on med-mal damages, while the former head of the Democratic National Committee wrote in his recent book that malpractice reform shouldn't be considered a major aspect of healthcare change.
"The total cost of malpractice constitutes just 0.46 percent of total health care expenditures, and settlements have grown modestly with inflation," Howard Dean wrote in "Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform."
Dean is a former Vermont governor and Presidential candidate. He's also a physician.
"The increasing costs of malpractice insurance premiums are hurting doctors, but they're not the real causes of our growing healthcare bill," Dean added.
"In reality, the longer Republicans obscure the real issues and obstruct reform efforts, the higher the costs will rise."
Dean says private insurers, pharmaceutical companies, both small and large businesses and conservatives have not "embraced the real goal of health care reform: Providing everyone with a choice of coverage."
However, Dean said at a town hall meeting in August that the reason significant tort reform measures aren't being included in the legislation is that lawmakers are scared of upsetting trial lawyers.
"When you go to pass a really enormous bill like that, the more stuff you put in it, the more enemies you make," Dean said.
"And the reason tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.