White House Announces $25 million in Grants for States to Curb Malpractice Suits

ABC News' Karen Travers reports:

The White House announced today that it will set aside $25 million to support state grants for pilot programs to reduce medical malpractice lawsuits. The funding, which would be up to $3 million over 3 years for each grant, will go to states to implement and evaluate patient safety and medical liability initiatives. The Department of Health and Human Services will oversee the process for states to launch and test initiatives that meet the following parameters: • Put patient safety first and work to reduce preventable injuries; • Foster better communication between doctors and their patients; • Ensure that patients are compensated in a fair and timely manner for medical injuries, while also reducing the incidence of frivolous lawsuits; and • Reduce liability premiums.

In his address to Congress last week, President Obama announced that he was directing Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to move forward on this proposal to see what works and what does not work at the state level.

"I think patient safety is the primary issue to strive toward," Sebelius said at the White House today. "The best goal would be to eliminate preventable medical errors. So better protocol, better safety, but certainly lowering costs of malpractice, lowering costs of defensive medicine, which causes potentially billions of dollars in redundant tests."

Obama noted in his address to Congress that many Republicans have pushed for medical malpractice reform as a way to reduce the nation's overall health care costs.

"Now, I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I've talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs,” he said last Wednesday.

Obama said in a June address to the nation's leading doctors' group that he was open to considering ideas on how to ensure patient safety but allow doctors to practice medicine.

"Some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable," Obama said to a gathering of the American Medical Association."That's a real issue. And while I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who've been wrongfully harmed, I do think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, let doctors focus on practicing medicine, and encourage broader use of evidence-based guidelines."

The AMA pushed the president to address the reason for all the unnecessary tests, referrals and hospital stays their members order because, they say, they practice defensive medicine to fend off voracious trial lawyers.

Grant applications for this new funding will be reviewed by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality which will make award decisions by early 2010.

-Karen Travers

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