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Senate GOP Echoes Bush’s Call for Medical Liability Reform

Responding to recent walkouts in several states by doctors protesting the high cost of medical malpractice insurance, Republican Senators on Tuesday called upon Congress to impose caps that would curb lawsuits stemming from malpractice claims.

Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who participated in the Republican Conference press briefing, said there’s been a “rush to the courthouse” since the threshold for malpractice suits was changed from meeting the community’s standards to “informed consent.”

“You’d have to give the patient a full course in medicine,” Hatch said.

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) presented an outline calling for legislation to: set limits on non-economic damages; reserve punitive damages for certain cases; allow providers to pay court-imposed damages over time; set timelines for filing claims; and tell jurors if a plaintiff has already received injury payments.

Hatch added that lawsuits are out of control and driving malpractice insurance so high that many excellent doctors are forced to give up their practices.

Three women who said they have had difficulty obtaining medical services because their doctors were adversely affected by insurance premiums joined the Senators. They talked about the dearth of specialty doctors in some areas as well as the inability to obtain care when medical complications arise.

“It shouldn’t be easier to sue a doctor than to get an appointment,” said Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who also took aim at trial lawyers.

“Trial lawyers treat doctors like their own personal ATMs,” he said.

Tuesday’s press event followed President Bush’s State of the Union address, in which he called for liability reform.

“To improve our health care system, we must address one of the prime causes of higher cost: the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued,” Bush said. “Because of excessive litigation, everybody pays more for health care, and many parts of America are losing fine doctors. No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit; I urge the Congress to pass medical liability reform.”

Since the first of the year, surgeons and doctors have staged walkouts or threatened strikes in several areas including West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hatch promised Tuesday to schedule hearings on the matter.

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