Gang of Six Tort Reform Savings Challenged

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A consumer organization is challenging a bipartisan deficit-cutting proposal that would give the Senate Judiciary Committee six months to report medical malpractice legislation.

The Gang of Six floated a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction blueprint Tuesday that requires Congress to start looking for savings immediately. The blueprint includes orders for the Judiciary panel to report an "unspecified amount" for malpractice reform.

California-based Consumer Watchdog blasted the little-noticed provision in a statement Wednesday.

"Limits on liability for doctors who commit medical negligence is a political bone for the Gang of Six to throw for buy-in from Republicans, not a meaningful compromise that will provide real savings to help close the deficit," said Carmen Balber, the group's Washington director. "President Obama should reject this gimmick in favor of solutions that are proven to reduce the cost of medical malpractice: improving patient safety and decreasing medical errors."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that medical liability reform could shave 0.5 percent off national healthcare costs. Half the savings are expected to come from lower medical malpractice rates, and the other half from a decrease in "defensive medicine" — additional testing and screening, for example — that doctors are believed to practice so they can't be accused of having done too little for patients.

Consumer Watchdog's statement points to a past letter to President Obama's deficit commission that questioned the savings assumptions for tort reform. One of the group's arguments is that any savings from a hypothetical reduction in defensive medicine would be offset by an increase in negligence.

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