When I served on the White House Domestic Policy Council, I put together an internal working group to suggest possible administrative reforms to our medical-malpractice system. President Bush had campaigned on legal reform, and reducing the incidence of costly and ineffective medical malpractice lawsuits was a high priority for the administration. Legislative legal reform, which is the only way to fix the problem, had passed in the House, but stalled in the Senate, and so I put together this group to come up with ideas for how to keep the issue alive.
In his speech last night, President Obama suddenly seemed to recognize that medical malpractice is a real issue, and mentioned one of the issues that developed out of this working group. He said that “the Bush administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It’s a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.”
I am glad that an issue that we discussed in the working group may now see the light of day. The idea was to use the states as laboratories of democracy, by encouraging them to experiment with alternative forms of dispute resolution. If any of the experiments were particularly effective, proponents of reform could highlight them and use them as models for a broader type of fix. But in reality, this small demonstration project is not going to solve the problem of medical-malpractice lawsuits, or the high malpractice insurance premiums and expensive defensive-medicine practices that stem from the lawsuits. It was a small holding action, designed to keep the flame of malpractice reform alive after it was stopped by impassable legislative roadblocks.