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HHS will fund $25 million in tort reform projects

The White House quickly followed up on President Obama's pledge to authorize medical liability demonstration projects, announcing Sept. 17 the availability of $25 million in grants to be doled out to states by the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Grants for up to three years and $3 million each will be awarded on a competitive basis to states and health care systems to test models that improve health care quality and patient safety while decreasing medical liability pressures on doctors. In his Sept. 9 address to Congress, the president said he would authorize the state demonstration projects to test new ideas. Many doctors insist that medical liability concerns lead to practicing defensive medicine, which in turn contribute to higher health care costs. Many physicians also say they continue to struggle to pay liability premiums, which vary by specialty and state. The American Medical Association applauded the announcement and said it supports the new initiative, even though it continues to push for caps on liability damages. "The Obama administration's action to implement and test state-based reforms is a welcome step toward advancing the goal of liability reform for patients and physicians," said AMA President J. James Rohack, MD. Dr. Rohack called defensive medicine "an unfortunate outgrowth of the broken liability system" that adds billions of dollars a year to health care costs. "The AMA supports federal funding for state-based pilot projects on medical liability reform alternatives such as health courts, early disclosure and compensation programs, and expert witness qualifications," he said. But organizations representing trial attorneys say they hope the programs do not punish patients. "Any changes to the malpractice system must focus on patient safety and preventable medical errors, not limiting patients' legal rights," said Anthony Tarricone, president of the American Assn. for Justice. "Forty-six states have already enacted tort reform, and health care costs continue to hurt the pocketbooks of American families. Because of these tort reforms, patients injured through no fault of their own are often unable to seek justice." The funding opportunity is set to be available online within 30 days of the Sept. 17 presidential memorandum (www.grants.gov/). Potential grantees will have two months to complete and submit their applications, with award decisions scheduled for early 2010. The full and original article can be found here: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2009/09/28/gvsd1001.htm
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