The Health Care Solution We Need to be Talking About

The Health Care Solution We Need to be Talking About

Published: Sep 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm

By Rep. Curt Schroder

I have recently attended two health care forums, both dominated by concerns over “ObamaCare” and the damage to our healthcare system should the government ever take control. When the discussion turned to what is really needed to improve our health care and reign in costs that increase premiums, there was a common theme at both events: the need to reform medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice law suits have had a devastating impact on the practice of medicine in Pennsylvania. Thanks to jury verdicts, expensive settlements to avoid trials, and increasing premiums for malpractice insurance, high risk specialists are in short supply across the state. Medical students educated in Pennsylvania schools leave to practice in other states with more reasonable liability systems. Obstetric units at hospitals have closed all across our region, and trauma care has suffered.

The expensive malpractice premiums paid by our doctors add to their overhead and the cost of their services. The fear of being sued causes doctors to practice “defensive medicine”, ordering more tests and procedures than might be necessary out of fear of being second-guessed by a trial lawyer should something go wrong. This drives up the utilization of medical services and virtually everyone is in agreement that such utilization is a major cost driver in our health care system.

Earlier in this decade, we in Pennsylvania had the opportunity to address and resolve this issue. Instead, legislative leaders literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The high water mark of medical malpractice reform came with House passage of my amendment which was a complete package of medical malpractice solutions. My amendment allowed for a system to limit, or cap, so called non-economic damages (“pain and suffering”), reformed “joint and several” liability to prevent those with deep pockets but no liability from being sued, kept our county doctors out of the lottery-like Philadelphia court system as well as providing reforms to the way in which malpractice awards were paid out. It had all of the necessary ingredients to solve the problem once and for all.

What happened? The bill went to the Senate where it was eviscerated. When it came back to the House it was so watered down that it was no longer recognizable as the bold effort contained in the amendment. The only meaningful provision to survive was the limitation on “venue” to keep suburban doctors out of the Philadelphia court system.

Later we made a second attempt at capping malpractice damages.  This took the form of a constitutional amendment.  When it became obvious that House leadership was going to allow this effort to die, I took the extraordinary step of filing and bringing a discharge petition to the floor. This was a direct challenge to my own House Republican Leadership as I was bound and determined to bring caps on damages to a vote.  I did get the discharge resolution to the floor but we fell about 7 votes short of the numbers needed to pass it.

The current debate on health care makes it clear to me that we need to revive this effort to bring limits and common sense to our malpractice system and litigation in general.  Yet it seems no one in Washington is championing this reform that would help lower healthcare costs. It is time the President and Congress drop their single-payer, public option, government controlled, nationalized healthcare fantasies and take the steps necessary to reform our current system while maintaining the best aspects of our health care.

Medical malpractice reform is a good place to start. Providing competition among insurers by allowing the purchasing of insurance across state lines would also help. Greater transparency in pricing for services would allow the consumer to make informed health care decisions. Expanding the use of consumer driven healthcare through Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) will allow individuals to make cost/benefit decisions for their own healthcare as opposed to rationing by federal bureaucrats.

There are plenty of good ideas to reform our healthcare and promote affordability and access for everyone without government control.  Once we defeat “ObamaCare” perhaps these good ideas will be taken seriously. 

Curt Schroder is in his eighth term representing the 155th District of Pennsylvania. He is currently running for US Congress in the 6th District of Pennsylvania. More information can be found at www.vote4curt.com