POLICY: Malpractice reforms–coming up next, maybe.

Fresh from triumph in the Senate if not in Baghdad, Bush went out next for medical malpractice reform.  This goes along with the Republican ideology of sticking it to those Democrat-lovin’ trial lawyers improving the climate for business. However, the businesses who tend to get their issues on the front burner with these Republicans are a little more influential to the President’s core base (anyone for energy?) than the AMA.  And the physicians just got a Medicare raise out of the recent bill.  While the actual words malpractice suit stick in the throat of any self-respecting doc like an unswallowed fishbone, there are two cautionary thoughts they might have:

One, malpractice isn’t that big a deal. It’s been a while since I looked at this but by my recollection malpractice costs in all its forms add a trivial percentage to overall health care costs. And a study about a decade ago showed that there was more malpractice than malpractice suits (even though half the suits were about care that wasn’t malpractice). With the IOM reporting on quality in health care not being as amazing as the AMA would have you believe, this is not a shut and dried case in the doctors’ favor.

Two, getting this type of reform passed is very hard.  It just died in Pennsylvania despite the governor’s promise, and the level of political capital required for national reform is unlikely to be expended by the Administration before their 2005 inauguration (which in turn depends on their winning the peace, or lack of it, in Iraq). But that’s not too bad for the Republicans. As Jeanne Scott knows, a lawyer joke always covers an embarrassing pause on the hustings. Of course, you may have noted that one of those potential Presidents on the other side may perhaps also have an interest here!

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