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'Health court' proposals would burden taxpayers, limit rights.

Proponents of creating special "health courts" to handle all medical malpractice disputes have asked Congress and state legislatures nationwide to force malpractice victims to waive their Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury. Instead, these cases would be resolved by a new administrative bureaucracy modeled after the workers' compensation system.

In the 109th Congress, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) sponsored the Fair and Reliable Medical Justice Act (S. 1337), which proposed to fund health court pilot projects. A similar bill (S. 1481) has been introduced in the 110th Congress.

At the state level, similar proposals were considered in Maryland (H.B. 1136), New Jersey (S. 671), New York (S. 4149), Oregon (S. 655), Pennsylvania (S.B. 678), and Virginia (H.J.R. 50) this past session.

So far, Congress and state legislatures have universally rejected these measures. However, the push for health courts will likely continue.

In February, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded Common Good--a tort "reform" group--a $1 million grant to launch health court pilot projects in six states: Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Collaborating with the Harvard School of Public Health, the group has developed a model bill that it plans to introduce in these states. (See

And the American Medical Association recently announced a series of "principles" for creating health courts. [See story on page 66.]

Common Good and other proponents assert that a health court system would control costs and allow faster decisions. But creating an administrative system will be expensive for taxpayers, who would probably have to pay for medical experts who would evaluate claims. It would force states to build huge new bureaucracies, placing a burden on local governments. And the "one-size-fits-all" formula that health courts would use to set compensation for all malpractice claimants is unfair. Since every case is different, each one should be evaluated on its own merits.

Health court legislation fails to address the real crux of the medical malpractice problem--preventing medical errors from occurring. Legislatures could take other steps to reduce errors and save lives that would cost less than health courts.
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Title Annotation:State report
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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