Tim Pawlenty (R)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline)-Changing the way medical malpractice cases are handled would be a "commonsense" way to help bring down skyrocketing U.S. health care costs, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

Ahead of Thursday's bipartisan Capitol Hill summit on health care reform, the Republican governor laid out a five-point plan for addressing ever-increasing health care costs in the United States.

Health care costs could be slashed if doctors did not have to order tests they knew were unnecessary just to avoid the threat of a lawsuit, Pawlenty said.

"At a minimum, we should establish uniform standards for medical liability limits to discourage interstate jury shopping that drives up everybody's health care costs," he said.

During debate on overhauling the nation's health care system, Democrats, who receive large amounts of campaign cash from trial lawyers, eschewed the idea of including tort reforms in the final bills, despite the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, saying that as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next decade if Congress enacted a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

In addition to tort reform, Pawlenty called for programs to help consumers buy cost-effective health care, to reward health care providers for performance, reform the employee-based health care system and allow consumers to buy health insurance across state lines.

"There is no reason a Minnesotan should not be able to buy health insurance from other states. Doing so would dramatically increase insurance choices and cut costs through improved competition," he said.

Pawlenty said at the health care summit this week is where conservatives should be prepared to offer solutions now that the Democratic health care plan is foundering amid a lack of Republican support in the Senate.

"This is an opportunity for Washington to start fresh and for conservatives to lead the way after the apparent defeat of the Democrats' plan," Pawlenty wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the Union Leader of New Hampshire.

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

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