NEW YORK, March 4, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Momentum for the creation of specialized health courts continues to build, following the first U.S. presidential race in which both major-party candidates endorsed the reform proposal. The momentum for health courts is fueled by bipartisan agreement on the need to stem the rising cost of health care and the costly waste of defensive medicine in particular.
The latest example of that momentum is the introduction in the Georgia State Senate of the "Patient Injury Act". That legislation, Senate Bill 141, was introduced by Senator Brandon Beach. The bill would replace the state's current medical malpractice system with a no-blame administrative model – in effect, a health court. A hearing on the bill continues today.
"Reforming the medical justice system depends on the passage of state legislation like Senate Bill 141," said Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chair of Common Good. "Without it, defensive medicine will continue to drive up health care costs, because the current system does not reliably distinguish between good care and bad."
Rising health care costs are driven significantly by the unnecessary waste of defensive medicine – doctors ordering tests and procedures not based on medical necessity but to protect themselves from a possible lawsuit. Defensive medicine is notoriously hard to measure, with estimates varying from about $45 billion to more than $200 billion annually. A recent estimate from BioScience Valuation, commissioned by Georgia-based Patients for Fair Compensation, places the cost of defensive medicine in the United States at between $270 billion and $650 billion annually.
In last year's presidential race, Republican candidate Mitt Romney advocated the creation of specialized health courts in an op-ed in USA Today, in which he said that "the federal government should also encourage states to pursue additional reforms such as specialized health care courts or other alternatives for resolving conflicts." President Obama had previously endorsed the creation of special health courts in a letter to Congressional leaders released by The White House on March 2, 2010. In it, he endorsed health courts and proposed an appropriation of $50 million for demonstration grants including health courts. The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – often called the Simpson/Bowles Commission – also endorsed the creation of specialized health courts, as have numerous other bipartisan commissions.
According to Patients for Fair Compensation, two recent studies by BioScience Valuation estimate that Georgia taxpayers could save "nearly $7 billion within 10 years if the Legislature replaced the state's medical malpractice system with a no-blame, administrative Patients' Compensation System" – a specialized health court.
The concept of health courts has been championed by Common Good – the nonpartisan government reform coalition – working in conjunction with experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Under Common Good's model, health courts would have judges dedicated full-time to resolving health care disputes. The judges would make written rulings to provide guidance on proper standards of care. These rulings would set precedents on which both patients and doctors could rely. To ensure consistency and fairness, each ruling could be appealed to a new Medical Appellate Court.
Health courts are aimed not at stopping lawsuits but at restoring reliability to medical justice. Special courts have long been used in American justice in areas of complexity where reliability requires judges, who can make consistent rulings from case to case, rather than juries, which have no authority to set predictable precedents. In the early republic, America had special admiralty courts. Today, there are special courts for tax disputes, family law, workers' comp, vaccine liability and a wide range of other specialized areas.
The public sees the need for reliable health care justice – and for health courts in particular. A nationwide poll conducted in April by Clarus Research Group revealed that 66 percent of voters support the idea of creating health courts to decide medical claims. The health court concept has also been endorsed by virtually every legitimate health care constituency, including medical societies, patient safety organizations and consumer groups like AARP.
"Rarely does one see such remarkable bipartisan political agreement and popular support for an innovative government reform," added Philip K. Howard. "The momentum in support of health courts is building, as the public grows increasingly unhappy with paying for the unnecessary waste of defensive medicine."
Common Good (www.commongood.org) is a nonpartisan government reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America. The Founder and Chair of Common Good is Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and author of Life Without Lawyers and The Death of Common Sense.
Goodman Media International
SOURCE Common Good