No “Tea Party” on Medical Malpractice for Republicans

Posted by Nolan Miller on Feb 23, 2011

Filed Under (Health Care)

Earlier this month the House Republicans pressed forward on their aggressive agenda of passing legislation that will ultimately not get through the Senate or President.  This time, the topic was medical malpractice.  Republicans have long argued that the medical malpractice system, where aggressive plaintiff’s attorneys after a big score force doctors to engage in costly defensive practices, is in large part responsible for the increasing cost of health care in the country.   As I’ve argued, the current evidence on this point is not strong.  Medical malpractice and defensive medicine seem to be responsible for, at most, a relatively modest part of health care costs.  The malpractice system should be reformed because it doesn’t work, not because of its contribution to cost.  (Although, new study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons argues that defensive medicine may be more prevalent that previously thought.  More on that next week.)

So, the House Judiciary Committee last week took up the question of medical malpractice, prepared to support a federal malpractice reform bill that would establish a 3 year statute of limitations on medical malpractice suits, limit noneconomic damages to $250,000 and assign damages based on proportional responsibility.   Given the Repulicans’ control of the House, this should have been easy.  But, and here I’ll give four stars to the Tea Partiers for ideological consistency, the bill was stalled when Tea Party Caucus members Ted Poe and Louie Gohmert, both Texas Republicans, raised issues of whether Congress has the power to overrule medical malpractice provisions in state constitutions.  In response, the committee’s chair, Lamar Smith, delayed the committee’s final vote on the legislation until they could clarify the bill’s states’ rights issues.

There’s a strange way in which the political spectrum bends around on itself sometimes, and liberals and libertarians end up on the same side of issues.   One thing is for sure, though.  If the Repulican mainstream thought that the Tea Party Caucus was going to fall in line, they’re in for a long couple of years (or more!).