White House officials and aides to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday vowed rapid follow up to President Obama's call for medical malpractice reform as part of his push for passage of a health care reform bill.
Sebelius hopes to announce within a month the location and scope of demonstration projects to curb frivolous lawsuits and, possibly, reduce the use of so-called defensive medicine to avoid them, an administration official told FOX News.
No decisions have been made, but the administration is looking at two approaches: One is to have doctors admit and disclose a medical mistake soon after it occurred and having patients submit a potential malpractice claim to a mediator instead of filing a lawsuit. The other is to have an independent panel of experts review the merit of a patient's claim and validate it through an affidavit before a lawsuit can be filed.
"The president has asked the secretary to move forward on this issue, he highlighted in his speech and the secretary is committed to carrying out the president's wishes," the official told FOX News.
Obama's pledge Wednesday to examine medical malpractice reform was met with skepticism from Republicans, who signaled Thursday that the president will have to take concrete steps toward reining in runaway trial costs before winning their support on health care reform.
Republicans see tort reform as a way to drive down health care costs, and Obama drew applause in his address to a joint session of Congress when he introduced his initiative.
"I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I've talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs," Obama said.
The Health and Human Services Department's Agency for Health Care Research and quality will review the best approaches to dealing with frivolous lawsuits and report soon to Sebelius on recommendations for demonstration projects.
Officials acknowledged Republican skepticism that Sebelius, who served from 1977 to 1986 as a lobbyist and executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers' Association, would move aggressively on tort reform.
"I would only say that the secretary was also the insurance commissioner in Kansas and has seen both sides of this issue," the administration official told FOX News. "And she will deal with as the president has directed. The previous president, who was a tort reform advocate, never sought to do what we are now preparing to do."