Friday, October 9, 2009

CBO Throws in Republican Tort Reform Theory, Credibility Now in Question.

Why has the CBO thrown a wrench into the health reform machine? Why is it backing two new tort reform studies that together, don't move the needle one way or another. It looks like the CBO is unusually quick to throw out all the other studies. Why? Something isn't quite right with CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf, who goes off the Richter scale with the new numbers.

(AP) - Limits on medical malpractice lawsuits would lead doctors to order up fewer unneeded tests and save taxpayers billions more than previously thought, budget umpires for Congress said Friday.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that government health care programs could save $41 billion over ten years if nationwide limits on jury awards for pain and suffering and other similar curbs were enacted. Those savings are nearly ten times greater than CBO estimated just last year.

That's just after one year, influenced by two additional studies that aren't definitive in any way. Now that I'm more skeptical about the CBO analysis , I'm wondering how it will approach the human toll of reform, the health outcome. This one point, more than any, is really what this is all about isn't it:

"Because medical malpractice laws exist to allow patients to sue for damages that result from negligent health care, imposing limits on that right might be expected to have a negative impact on health outcomes. There is less evidence about the effects of tort reform on people’s health, however, than about its effects on health care spending— because many studies of malpractice costs do not examine health outcomes. Some recent research has found that tort reform may adversely affect such outcomes, but other studies have concluded otherwise.

Lakdawalla and Seabury (2009) found that a 10 percent eduction in costs related to medical malpractice liability would increase the nation’s overall mortality rate by 0.2 percent. However, Kessler and McClellan (1996 and 2002) and Sloan and Shadle (2009) concluded that tort reform generated no significant adverse outcomes for patients’ health."

The CBO is pushing the negative impact on a persons health aside, while accepting the idea that fewer tests would improve mortality rates by 0.2 percent. How? More tests may cost more money, but how would that save a persons life? And it's just one study by a group I know nothing about.

The bottom line is this; going after the victims compensation, as opposed to finding a better way to prevent the medical errors, calls into question the motivation of the CBO. What a time to pass these theories along to congress, in the middle of passing health care reform. If tort reform saves doctors, hospitals and insurance companies money, why hasn't it lowered patient premiums? Everybody wins except the victim of an illness.

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