Op-EdAppeared in Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 17, 2013By Bernie Marcus

Georgia Has a Great Idea

Doctors Group Should Embrace Plan to End Malpractice Abuse

Four years after President Barack Obama unveiled his health reform plan to the nation, we hear news of its terrible impact on the economy every day. With our nation stuck at around 7.5 percent unemployment for almost a year, American consumers are also seeing their healthcare premiums skyrocket. It’s a devastating one-two punch.

Just as job creation won’t turn around until Washington changes direction, healthcare premiums won’t stop rising until Congress or state legislatures get control of healthcare costs. Medical malpractice drives healthcare costs up with a costly side effect – defensive medicine. Wary of malpractice, physicians order more tests and procedures than are medically necessary.

This fear of lawsuits translates into remarkable costs. According to a Gallup survey of physicians, defensive medicine translates to almost $14 billion annually or one in every four healthcare dollars spent nationwide. That’s about $1,700 per Georgian. The problem with President Obama’s new healthcare law is not what it tried to do, but what it failed to do: reduce costs. But Georgia lawmakers are considering a bold plan that would eliminate the practice of defensive medicine, reduce healthcare costs and prevent physicians from suffering lawsuit abuse.

Senate Bill 141, the Patients Compensation System legislation, would replace the current medical malpractice scheme with one similar to today’s workers compensation system. Unhappy patients would file a claim with an expert panel, which would determine if a medical injury had occurred and decide compensation. Payments would come faster; jaw-dropping and system-jarring legal awards would be a thing of the past.

Importantly, any patient harmed would be fairly compensated – not just the patients whose injuries were bad enough to attract a trial lawyer.

National advocacy groups like Docs4PatientCare, Medical Justice and Patients for Fair Compensation are working hard to pass the bill. But with healthcare costs sky high and malpractice at center stage, why is MAG Mutual, one of Georgia’s largest malpractice insurers, standing in opposition?

Even more troubling: the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG), which is funded by the insurance company, has been pulled into opposing a plan that protects its member doctors. Oppenheim Research recently found that 95 percent of Georgia doctors support the Patients Compensation System proposal; 90 percent said the concept would make it possible to practice medicine without fear of litigation.

If the Medical Association of Georgia stands by its mission to protect the state’s 32,000 licensed physicians, it shouldn’t work so hard to maintain the status quo. Fewer lawsuits make the practice of medicine more affordable for physicians and, in turn, drive healthcare costs down for all of us.