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Medical lawsuit limits favored by public

Physicians and other tort reform advocates say an Associated Press poll released Nov. 19 shows the public agrees that limiting medical liability lawsuits is key to successfully overhauling the health care system. The nationwide survey by the news organization showed that 54% of Americans favor limits on such lawsuits, while 32% opposed such measures ( The phone interviews with 1,502 adults, which also covered other aspects of health system reform, were conducted from Oct. 29 to Nov. 8 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media and Stanford University, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they believed that at least half of the tests physicians ordered were done unnecessarily, based on doctors' fears of being sued. "If we are going to provide health insurance coverage, we need to get rid of the unnecessary health care costs," and defensive medicine is one of the main drivers of those costs, said American Medical Association President J. James Rohack, MD. "We're glad the public has recognized it's also contributing." Although the poll didn't list which states were surveyed, "the reality is, in states that don't have proven medical liability reform, access to high-risk specialists has been impacted," Dr. Rohack added. Some states have responded to lawsuit abuses and access-to-care concerns with caps on noneconomic damages. California, with its $250,000 award limit, should serve as a model for federal health system reform, said Lisa Maas. She is executive director of Californians Allied for Patient Protection, a coalition of physicians, community clinics and others supporting tort reform. "It's more important to preserve access to affordable, quality health care than it is to financially motivate personal injury lawyers," Maas said. "Clearly, the American public agrees." President Obama and congressional Democrats oppose caps, however, and successfully have kept them out of the reform debate, saying they take away patients' legal rights. Obama has supported federal funding of state experiments with liability reform alternatives. The American Assn. for Justice, the trial lawyers lobby, said the focus should be on medical errors, something it said the AP poll underestimated. Twelve percent of those who visited a hospital and 10% of those who saw a doctor in the past five years said they witnessed what they thought was a medical mistake. "If people realized how big a deal this is with medical errors, they would have a vastly different take. And if [the poll] had asked those who've been injured by medical malpractice, they would vouch for the need for a strong civil justice system," said American Assn. for Justice spokesman Ray De Lorenzi. The full and original article can be found here:
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