ICJL supports Obama's call for medical liability reform

Ann Knef Jan. 27, 2011, 4:00am


President Barack Obama's consideration of medical malpractice reform during Tuesday's State of the Union address prompted a positive, yet cautious, reaction from Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) President Ed Murnane.

"The Illinois Civil Justice League supports President Obama's call for medical liability reforms that would protect our health care providers from lawsuit abuse and lower the cost of health care for Illinois citizens," Murnane said in a statement.

"The proof, however, will be in the pudding," he said. "This is the second straight State of the Union address in which the President raised the issue — yet meaningful reforms were left out of the health care bill signed into law last year."

Obama, in his annual speech before Congress, said further reductions in health care costs are needed, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid. He said the two are the biggest contributors to the nation's long-term deficit.

"The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit," Obama said.

Last week, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal Obama's health care reform act, 245-189. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, most likely will block the repeal measure. Even if it were to pass, Obama has said he would veto it.

Still, the President said he is "willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."

According to a 2009 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as much as $54 million could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.

The office, in its report, said legal reforms would lower medical malpractice premiums for physicians and other health care professionals as well as save money because doctors would feel more comfortable with their medical decisions without running otherwise unnecessary tests and procedures -- so-called defensive medicine.

Such reforms, including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims would reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent, the office reported.

In Illinois, medical malpractice reform laws have twice been knocked down by the state Supreme Court. Last year, it overturned a 2005 law that capped damages at $500,000 against doctors and $1 million against hospitals.

Murnane said the ICJL will be working with its allies at the Illinois State Medical Society and Illinois Hospital Association to achieve liability reform.

"Hopefully, action at the federal level will negate the hostile attitude of the judiciary in Illinois," Murnane said.

Jessica Karmasek contributed to this report.

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Illinois Hospital Association
1151 Warrenville Road
Naperville, Illinois 60566

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