Trading lawsuits for a public option?

TRADING LAWSUITS FOR A PUBLIC OPTION?…. There was a paragraph in President Obama’s speech the AMA this afternoon that the audience is likely to ponder quite a bit:

“I recognize that it will be hard to make some of these changes if doctors feel like they are constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of lawsuits. Some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable. That’s a real issue. And while I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards — which I believe can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed — I do think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, let doctors focus on practicing medicine, and encourage broader use of evidence-based guidelines. That’s how we can scale back the excessive defensive medicine reinforcing our current system of more treatment rather than better care.”

For the American Medical Association, in particular, presidential acknowledgement of “excessive defensive medicine” will no doubt be welcome.

The comments come on the heels of an NYT report on the White House’s willingness to consider changes to the system surrounding medical malpractice lawsuits.

In closed-door talks, Mr. Obama has been making the case that reducing malpractice lawsuits — a goal of many doctors and Republicans — can help drive down health care costs, and should be considered as part of any health care overhaul, according to lawmakers of both parties, as well as A.M.A. officials.

It is a position that could hurt Mr. Obama with the left wing of his party and with trial lawyers who are major donors to Democratic campaigns. But one Democrat close to the president said Mr. Obama, who wants health legislation to have broad support, views addressing medical liability issues as a “credibility builder” — in effect, a bargaining chip that might keep doctors and, more important, Republicans, at the negotiating table.

OK, but what might the president get in return? If lawsuit limits are a bargaining chip, what can Obama expect the AMA and Republicans to bargain on?

Here’s an idea: the White House opens the door to reducing malpractice lawsuits and detractors make room for a public option. For the AMA, opposition to a public plan doesn’t really make any sense, and seems to be driven by a bizarre concern for the insurance companies.

If the AMA can get movement on medical liability issues out of the administration, maybe the public option might not look so outrageous after all?

Post Script: Keep in mind, as long-time Monthly readers may recall, that the very idea of a “lawsuit crisis” is patently ridiculous, but that doesn’t change the fact that it remains a high priority for opponents of reform.