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U.S. to Provide Grants to Reduce Medical Malpractice Suits

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

It’s not surprising that many people think the present medical liability system is unfair and ineffective. For patients, ensuring safety can be a major obstacle, and preventable medical errors kill tens of thousands of people every year. For doctors, restrictive health insurance companies make their work more difficult. With the malpractice system broken, medical liability reform is long overdue.

On September 9, 2009, President Obama, in an address to Congress, asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action to reduce malpractice costs. In response, the HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced that it was offering grants to health systems and individual states. These $25 million grants are part of the HHS Patient Safety and Medical Liability Initiative.

The grant program has several goals, which include addressing patient safety and liability issues as well as evaluating existing medical liability initiatives that relate to health care quality. The Initiative will also offer planning grants to states and health systems to plan and implement patient safety and medical liability demonstrations. The initiative’s major focus is on working with states and health systems to implement and evaluate these new demonstrations.

At present, the HHS has offered seven demonstration grants and 13 planning grants to a variety of medical research institutions and hospitals, including Johns Hopkins University, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts State Department of Public Health, University of Washington, Ascension Health System and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. These grants are part of the federal government’s largest targeted investment in improving the nation’s health care system.

Some of the demonstration grants support projects geared toward reducing preventable injuries, reducing liability insurance premiums and improving patient-doctor communications. Other grants help establish a more comprehensive legal standard of care for health care professionals, non-court alternatives and evidence-based guidelines for reducing the number of lawsuits. Ultimately, the HHS hopes to transform our current health care system into a more uniform, higher-quality system.

Health care reform will take concentrated effort as well as investments of time and money by dedicated health care professionals and experts. In time, this new initiative could cure some of the ills that plague our national health care system.

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