Congressman Thornberry (TX-13) began exploring the idea of health courts in 2003 after meeting with a group of distraught doctors who were dealing with the medical liability crisis in Texas. Then after reading Phillip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense and The Collapse of the Common Good, he became convinced that legislative action was needed to explore alternatives to the current system.
Last April, with the help of the folks at the Common Good and the Progressive Policy Institute, I introduced the “Medical Liability Procedural Reform Act of 2005.” H.R. 1546 will authorize funding for states to create administrative health courts presided over by full-time judges who have training in medical law and procedure. The rulings of these judges, who could be aided by neutral experts accountable to the court, would ultimately provide consistent standards of care as a matter of law. Their rulings would set precedents upon which patients, providers, and society could rely.
My experiences working on the health courts legislation have been two fold. The introduction of a similar bipartisan health courts bill introduced Senators Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Max Baucus (D-MT) last June was encouraging. It has also been exciting to participate in numerous health court briefs and discussions over the past year. These events, both on and off Capitol Hill, sponsored by the Common Good, the Progressive Policy Institute, and the Brookings Institute, have been attended by Congressmen, congressional staff, and some of the most prominent leaders in health care and law.
While people were enthusiastic about the health courts proposal at the time of the events, the luster seemed to fade away rather quickly. It has been tough trying to garner cosponsors for the bill. For instance, I was very confident this past summer that a Democratic Congressman was going to sign on to the bill. He and his staff were very interested in the idea after attending a couple of these events. Unfortunately, the Association of Trial Lawyers caught wind of his interest in the bill and they quickly changed his mind by threatening to cut off all campaign contributions.
I guess this goes to show how difficult it is to get a new, innovative and promising idea through the heads of Washington bureaucrats. While the health courts proposal is not going to happen over night, I am confident that continued discussion and awareness about the failures of our current medical liability system will one day bring about changes to the system for the benefit of patients, physicians and the general public.”