In a letter sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week, three Republican lawmakers expressed concern that the department failed to adequately respond to a similar letter in April about the lack of details regarding federal grants created to advance medical malpractice reforms, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
Both letters were written by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
About the Letter
The lawmakers questioned the $23.2 million awarded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for studies on malpractice reform, writing that "it appears that none [of that money] ... has gone to researching or implementing 'traditional' medical malpractice reforms" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/17). They defined traditional reforms as those that are aimed at decreasing "the incidence of frivolous lawsuits, inflated awards and inflated attorneys' fees" (Attias, CQ Today, 10/17).
A release accompanying the letter added, "[I]t appears that all of the research funded by the AHRQ is aimed at proving the obvious: as the number of adverse events declines, the number of malpractice lawsuits also declines" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/17).
The lawmakers charged that HHS' response to their April letter "ignores the vast majority of our questions, if not all of them, and did not include any documents." The new letter reiterated the 14 requests included in the April letter, and added two new questions addressing HHS' response (CQ Today, 10/17).
Differing Approaches to Malpractice
While President Obama and Republicans agree that malpractice lawsuits can increase health care costs, they disagree on how to handle the problem. Republicans support a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in malpractice suits, while Obama believes physicians who adhere to best practices should be immune from lawsuits altogether and those who do not follow guidelines should be subject to suits without a cap ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/17).
The House in March passed legislation (HR 5) that would place a cap on damages in some malpractice lawsuits, limit attorney fees and create a statute of limitations for filing health care suits. However, Obama's administration had "serious concerns" with the measure, which was tied to the repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board created under the Affordable Care Act (CQ Today, 10/17).