Malpractice Reform a Double-Edged Sword

"I felt that the law is protecting bad doctors... they are free to continue practicing and they can be underinsured and other people can still be exposed," said Josephine Washington.

The Battle on the Horizon

As the Washingtons and others in Nevada continue their efforts to combat the malpractice laws and to seek justice, a major malpractice reform battle could materialize after the congressional recess ends and this time the battles lines may not be as clear as they've been in the past.

The New York Times reported in June that in private talks with the American Medical Association, President Obama made the case that the reduction in malpractice lawsuits could help in lowering health care costs.

The AMA endorsed the health care reform effort in June, despite no public commitment from leading democrats or the president on whether their signature issue of curbing malpractice lawsuits would appear in the health care bill.

AMA President Dr. James Rohack in a statement to ABC News asserted that "medical liability reform will help doctors implement best-practices in patient care and reduce unnecessary health costs."

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who has introduced malpractice reform legislation in the past in the Senate, made similar assertions about the importance of malpractice reform.

"You can't do health care reform unless you have medical malpractice reform included," said Gregg.

The senator also expressed doubt about Obama's openness to malpractice reform.

"It would be nice if the president was actually supportive," said Gregg.

As the debate continues, the question still remains as to whether malpractice reforms will make it into a Senate bill in the fall.

"There is no effort right now for compromise or bipartisan work on the health care bill," Gregg later added. All of Gregg's markups relating to malpractice reform in the Kennedy-Dodd bill have been rejected.

It seems clear that any bill will need to balance the interests of doctors who try to do their jobs without the threat of litigation and high malpractice premiums, with the rights of patients to seek complete justice for doctors' negligence.

For physician Cardenas, it was a matter of being able to practice back in McAllen, Texas. "This is my home; my ancestry goes back about eight generations."

But for Josephine Washington to see her husband go through so much pain while the clinic's doctors remain unaccountable, she said, "You have to hit them where it hurts them the most. That will change their minds and get them to practice better medicine."

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