Donna Shalala says tort reform is needed to reduce health care costs

"In Florida, Gov. Bush and I have worked very hard on malpractice reform for example, and tort reform," Shalala said. "I believe that tort reform has to be part of the overall effort. It may have to be state-by-state, and that may have to be the state's contribution to slowing down and reducing overall health care costs in this country, while the federal government figures out how to strategically ... reward integrated plans, good outcomes, value-added and all of the other things we want to see without affecting the quality of health care for millions of Americans who are elderly and increasingly poor as they get older."

In 2003, Florida passed a tort reform bill under Jeb Bush which, according to the Orlando Sentinel, saw the number of lawsuits and the size of payouts fall by nearly 14 percent. Doctors' insurance premiums also dropped 36 percent.

In 2011, the Legislature returned to tort reform, passing a law that restricts the use of expert witnesses in malpractice cases, requires out-of-state expert witnesses to obtain a certificate from the state health department, and allows the state Board of Medicine to discipline expert witnesses whose testimony is fraudulent, deceptive or misleading.

The Fix the Debt campaign is led by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of President Obama's 2010 deficit-reduction commission. It's backed by the CEO's of some of the country's largest corporations, such as Goldman Sachs, Bain Capital, Citigroup and Microsoft.

But liberal critics say those corporate chieftains are more concerned about solidifying their own tax breaks while passing Medicare and Social Security cuts on to the public.

During 2010's year-long debate about health care reform in the U.S., Republican critics of President Obama's proposals said there were other issues that needed to be on the table, including: acquiring insurance across state lines, expanding health savings accounts, and putting limits on malpractice awards.

In a conference call on Thursday morning hosted by Fix The Debt's Florida chapter, Donna Shalala — former Health and Human Services secretary under President Clinton, and currently the President of the University of Miami — agreed that tort reform is needed to help curve rising health care costs.

Shalala co-hosted the conference call with her Fix the Debt Republican colleague Justin Sayfie, former Jeb Bush speechwriter and publisher of the Sayfie Review. Both called on Congress and the president to decide today on a long-term fiscal plan going forward, especially with sequestration — draconian budget cuts to social programs and defense — coming up in March.

Shalala said the sequester "will be a disaster for Florida and the nation," since it could potentially cut programs that aid the disabled, as well as the elderly and public institutions. But she added that in the end, some programs will have to be eliminated.

A reporter asked Shalala whether the cuts that Fix The Debt are calling for are entitlement programs or due to the fact that health care costs are escalating. Shalala said it was a combination of both, and talked about how important it is for doctors and hospitals to move away from the current fee-for-service system and toward an integrated system where everybody is accountable for slowing down the costs.

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