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President Bush is stepping up his efforts to push for caps on medical malpractice awards. At a recent event in Illinois, Bush called on Congress to control the rising costs of healthcare by enacting such reform.
"The U.S. Congress needs to pass real medical liability reform this year," he said. "And because the system is so unpredictable, there is a constant risk of being hit by a massive jury award. Doctors end up paying tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, to settle claims out of court, even when they know they have done nothing wrong."
Although the president acknowledged that medical research requires major investments and that "world-class medical technology is expensive, he noted that "junk lawsuits" were changing the way that doctors are practicing medicine.
Too often, Bush contended, doctors are writing prescriptions and ordering tests that aren't needed in order to reduce the potential for such lawsuits.
The Bush administration has proposed to put a limit of $250,000 on non-economic damages, which also means the pain and suffering portions of malpractice awards. There would be no imposed limits on economic losses suffered as the result of "legitimate medical error," the president said.
The president's proposal would allow malpractice awards to be paid out over time, instead of in a lump sum, in addition to limiting the time in which such suits could be filed after malpractice is claimed.
Opponents contend that caps on malpractice claims serve only to shield doctors and companies that provide substandard healthcare or products. They contend that the problem is with insurers who look to raise premiums, which affects the health care spending for individuals and companies. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Bushs proposal is a "shameful shield" for drug companies and health management organizations (HMOs).