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Apr 29

Tennessee can lead nation in reducing health costs in 2016

memphisby Wayne Oliver
Originally published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal on April 28, 2016

As we have seen since the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, health care often tends to create sharp divides. So when an idea draws so much consensus, it is time to take notice.

That issue is a proposal to reduce health care costs that was before the Tennessee General Assembly. It would eliminate wasteful, defensive medicine by repealing Tennessee’s broken medical malpractice system and replace it with a no-blame, administrative model.

A new survey by Beacon Research finds that 85 percent of Tennessee doctors believe a proposed Patients’ Compensation System (PCS) would reduce health costs. Another 89 percent said they would support the proposal before the Tennessee legislature.

Tennessee physicians are no different from doctors throughout the country. They use their pen to drive up health costs because they live in fear of litigation. Wasteful, defensive medicine occurs when physicians order items such as X-rays, blood work, MRIs and CT scans — tests and procedures that are not clinically necessary but are ordered to protect physicians from a lawsuit.

Bioscience Valuation, a health care economics firm, reports defensive medicine cost $487 billion in the United States in 2015. In Tennessee, defensive medicine runs about $13 billion annually in wasted health care costs.

While other attempts at health cost reduction have chipped around the edges, this plan would save Tennessee significant dollars in health care — more than $30 billion in public and private health plans over a decade. Florida, Georgia, Maine and Montana are considering similar plans.

Under the proposed PCS, patients who have been injured by a physician would no longer take their case to court. Instead, they would file a claim before an administrative panel of health care experts and an administrative law judge. If the PCS found an avoidable harm had occurred, the patient would be quickly compensated, unlike our current legal system that takes years and compensates very few injured patients.

Patients would be compensated in an amount similar to what they would receive after years in the legal system. This no-blame, administrative model would eliminate the adversarial relationship between patient and doctor and allow physicians to acknowledge their errors without fear of litigation.

Beacon Research also found that 85 percent of Tennessee doctors would be able to live without of fear of litigation if the PCS model were adopted. And 64 percent said they would eliminate or reduce the practice of defensive medicine.

The General Assembly tackled many issues during its just-completed session. From taxes to Internet access to education, there are many important topics our legislators tried to address. One of the most pressing issues was the continued increase in the cost of health care. Reports are that insurance rates have increased by as much as 36 percent for Tennessee families this year.

With news like this, it’s no wonder Tennesseans are frustrated. The promises of the Affordable Care Act continue to disappoint, and families continue to feel the pinch with higher premiums and more out-of-pocket costs.

Wayne Oliver is the executive director of the Patients for Fair Compensation, a nonprofit seeking to implement the Patients’ Compensation System.

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