Published 2/1/2011
Jamie Gregorian

Did State of Union mark shift in approach?

On Jan. 26, President Obama delivered his “State of the Union” address. In his first speech to a divided Congress, the president called for a “new era of cooperation,” urging members to “work together tomorrow” to “take on challenges that have been decades in the making.”

President Obama called for a 5-year freeze in domestic spending—which would not include Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense. Additionally, he also pledged to veto any bill with earmarks, called for a major reorganization of federal agencies to eliminate overlap, and urged tax reforms to eliminate corporate loopholes and end tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

Surprising many observers, the president pledged to pursue tort reform as a way to improve healthcare reform, saying he was “willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including … medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”

For their part, Senate Democrats were cautious in responding to the President’s malpractice proposal, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he could only support medical liability reform if it was part of a broader package of legislation that included other fixes, such as a plan to eliminate the McCarran-Ferguson Act that offers insurance companies broad antitrust exemptions.

Still, it was unclear whether the President was interested in federal legislation to institute medical liability reform. A White House fact sheet said that “the President pledged to … support state reforms of medical malpractice systems to bring down costs and improve care.”

Jamie Gregorian is senior manager, specialty society affairs and resident advocacy, in the office of government relations. He can be reached at gregorian@aaos.org