Oregon Seeks $300,000 Tort Reform Grant

Proponents hope to link medical liability issues with patient safety concerns
The Lund Report

January 14, 2010 -- Oregon officials are eager to apply for a federal grant to conduct research on tort reform.

Since none of the health reform bills moving through Congress include tort reform, the Obama Administration has set aside grant funds that will be administered by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy. 

Oregon is applying for a $300,000 planning grant, according to Sean Kolmer, deputy administrator of the Office of Oregon Health Policy and Research. He’s teamed up with Jim Dameron who runs the Patient Safety Commission. They’re on a quick timeline to submit the grant, which is due by Jan. 20. If successful, their work will start in 2011. However they face stiff competition since only 12 grants will be awarded nationwide.  
“We wouldn’t necessarily be implementing anything, even for testing purposes,” Kolmer said. “This is really just about creating a plan of what possibly to do.”
Dameron is interested in the explicit link between patient safety and medical liability issues, which has been signaled out by the federal agency. “The focus is on how to address the role of the state in the rapid uptake of evidence-based best practice,” he said.
The legal issue that comes up is whether states such as Oregon can create a safe haven of medical liability as an incentive for best practices, he said. In other words, how would it ease insurance expenses without infringing on a patient’s right to tort action?
“This line of thinking brings up lots of thorny questions, but intriguing ones,” said Dameron. “We’ll be focusing on a small set of guidelines to protect physicians from high medical liability costs.”
The feds hope to avoid a top-down approach and give states more latitude in developing new ways to deal with tort reform. That excites Dameron who sees a great opportunity to develop new methodologies. “Part of the interest in this is how the feds are encouraging experimentation on the smaller-scale state level,” he said.
State agencies aren’t the only entities that can apply for these grant funds. “A hospital system could try to shift its medical liability burden,” said Dameron. “A lot of people are talking about how this could turn the problem around.”
Both Dameron and Kolmer are starting from the assumption that tort reform is needed since past efforts have ended with governmental agencies and insurance companies in a deadlock.
“The feds told us not spend a lot of time arguing that medical liability needs reform,” Dameron said. “These grants could initiate a less shrill conversation to start with because so often the problem is addressed from how liability costs too much.”
The Lund Report contacted the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association, but its officials declined to comment.
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