Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) On Medical Liability Reform

Posted on May 5, 2006

Mr. President, first let me express my concern about the medical liability crisis that is occurring in Tennessee and across our country. I am particularly concerned about a crisis in access to medical care for mothers and babies in Tennessee. In 45 of Tennessee's 95 counties, pregnant mothers have to drive for miles to get prenatal health care and to deliver their babies. In 15 of those counties, pregnant mothers have no access whatsoever to any prenatal care within their counties. Only 1 of 104 medical students graduating from Vanderbilt University Medical School in 2004 chose to be an OB-GYN, according to Dr. Frank Boehm, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Boehm cautions that: We must not lose sight of the fact that one of the side effects of our current medical malpractice crisis in OB-GYN is a steady loss of medical students choosing to practice one of our most important medical specialties. If this decline in OB-GYN doctors continues, patients having babies or needing high-risk gynecologic care will be faced with access problems this country has not seen. That is Dr. Frank Boehm, Vanderbilt Medical School, as reported in the Tennessean on July 20, 2004. Dr. Ron Blankenbaker, associate dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Chattanooga, said four of the six doctors at UT Family Practice who provided obstetrical care have stopped working in this specialty because of fears of malpractice lawsuits. That was in the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February of 2005. It is clear that we are in a medical crisis and we must do something to improve access to care for mothers and their babies. For this reason, I am proud to be a cosponsor of S. 23, the Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Access to Care Act, a bill to protect access to care for mothers and babies by providing medical liability reform for obstetric and gynecological care. I am also proud to be a cosponsor of S. 22, the Medical Care Access Protection Act of 2006, a comprehensive medical liability reform bill. This is the third time during my tenure in the Senate that I have come to the floor to discuss medical liability concerns. While we have debated solutions every time, we have not had the votes necessary to enact those solutions. Sadly, during this time of inaction, the situation has gotten much worse in my home State of Tennessee. In February of this year, Tennessee was declared a medical liability "Crisis State" by the American Medical Association, joining 20 other crisis States where broken medical liability systems are jeopardizing access to health care. I have heard from doctors and hospitals from one end of Tennessee to the other, all concerned with the skyrocketing costs of medical liability premiums. The average medical liability insurance premium for Tennessee doctors has increased 84 percent since 1999 due, in large part, to our out-of-control jury awards. That is according to the Tennessee Medical Association. In the past 10 years, 100 percent of cardiac surgeons, 92 percent of OB-GYNs, 92 percent of orthopedists, and 70 percent of all doctors in Tennessee have faced legal action -- again, according to the Tennessee Medical Association. The medical liability crisis is driving up the cost of health care for all Tennesseans. The annual cost of defensive medicine, –- that is the extra tests and procedures performed by doctors to protect them from lawsuits -- is estimated at $70 to $120 billion per year, nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Defensive medicine adds $2 billion to health care costs just for Tennesseans. That is almost $1,000 for every Tennessee household that is spent on unnecessary defensive medicine costs –- tests, and procedures performed by doctors to keep them from getting sued -- and they are still getting sued. In Tennessee, 78 percent of doctors report ordering extra tests and procedures due to litigation fears. Nearly half of those doctors estimate that 20 percent or more of their procedures fall into the defensive medicine category. Again, I believe it is pretty clear we are facing a crisis. Here is what the bills would do. The Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Access to Care Act and the Medical Care Access Protection Act would help us get out of this crisis. I hope we can pass these bills and see them signed into law. These bills ensure fair and just compensation for patient injury by providing full compensation for economic damages. In plain English, if you are actually hurt, this bill permits you to be paid 100 percent of the value of those damages. It does not interfere with that at all. If a patient is injured, he or she will have unlimited access to economic damages to pay for recovery. These bills also place a sensible cap of up to $750,000 on awards for non-economic damages. The caps on non-economic damages are fashioned after the Texas State law. After Texas passed statewide medical liability reform in 2003, medical malpractice rates decreased, access to care has been increasing, new doctors are moving to Texas, current doctors are staying in Texas, and new insurers are entering the Texas medical liability market, creating more choices for physicians. I am happy for Texas. A lot of our family lives in Texas. But I would like to see Tennesseans and other Americans have some of these same advantages. Our Senate bills are modeled after the Texas law, and I hope to see this success story spread to Tennessee and spread nationwide because Tennessee mothers and Tennessee babies and all medical patients deserve access to health care.