Hospitals

Morning Read: Malpractice reform falls on hard times

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare: Malpractice reform falls on hard times: The Georgia Supreme Court followed Illinois‘ lead in ruling that caps on malpractice awards in jury trials aren’t legal. “The very existence of the caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury,” […]

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare:

Malpractice reform falls on hard times: The Georgia Supreme Court followed Illinois‘ lead in ruling that caps on malpractice awards in jury trials aren’t legal. “The very existence of the caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury,” according to Georgia’s  chief justice. Thirty states have such caps on the books, but caps have been struck down in six states over the last 20 years or so, the New York Times reports.

The ruling marks a difficult few months for tort-reform advocates. Not only did Illinois and Georgia do away with malpractice-award caps, but President Obama’s health overhaul didn’t include any significant changes to the federal system, either. And that’s even after Obama said he was open to some iteration of malpractice reform in an attempt to show that he was willing to embrace an idea typically championed by Republicans. Further, a recent examination of Ohio’s tort reform law, which passed 5 years ago, shows that it’s brought down insurance costs for doctors, but certainly hasn’t slowed the growth of health spending in the state or provided any other tangible benefit to patients. While “defensive medicine” is a real issue that lots of doctors grapple with daily, malpractice caps are not the way to remedy that problem. Further, data shows that “frivolous” malpractice lawsuits barely affect the cost of care, so tort reform simply shouldn’t be high on the priority list when it comes overhauling healthcare in the U.S.

Challenging the constitutionality of health reform: Led by the attorney general from Florida, right-leaning AGs from a total of 13 states have joined together in a lawsuit that claims health reform is unconstitutional. At the top of their complaints list is the “individual mandate,” which would compel most Americans to buy health insurance or face a fine. (That’s kind of funny, given that the individual mandate was developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.) Alternatively, some states are looking to pass laws that they say would give them the right to opt out of the reform legislation’s provisions. These sort of legal challenges have been percolating for months, yet the question remains: Are they likely to succeed?

That, of course, depends on whom you ask, although it’s pretty clear that states’ “opt-out” laws won’t hold up. As a professor from the New England School of Law tells the Associated Press, “Federal law is supreme.” It seems pretty well-established that federal law trumps state law, so that’s going to be a tough battle for reform opponents to win. The individual mandate could be slightly more problematic for reformers, but even challenging that could be a long shot. Congress has framed the mandate as a tax, and Congress’ “sweeping authority” to regulate the nation’s economy has been well-established since the 1930s, the New York Times reports. In the end, it’s likely the legal challenges will quietly die with a whimper, but not before they’ve won the attorneys general and conservative politicians some extra votes, which was likely the point all along.

Beware of clinical trials that end early: Research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that you should raise an eyebrow whenever you hear of a company that puts an early halt to clinical trials due to positive treatment effects. An international study of 100 clinical trials indicates that early-stop trials tend to exaggerate positive effects, leading the study’s authors to recommend clinical trial researchers resist early termination pressures. Early termination of trials benefits just about everyone, researchers say, except the patient, who may end up receiving a therapy on the basis of misleading information about its benefits.

Photo from flickr user Seattle Municipal Archives