Overlawyered passes along a misleading description of the "tort reform" provisions in the Senate health care bill from an anonymous Capitol Hill source:

The “tort reform” section of Senator Reid’s substitute amendment is not merely meaningless, but is actually a significant giveaway to the trial lawyers. It is essentially a 5-year, 50-million dollar grant program to encourage states to develop more plaintiff-friendly alternatives to the current medical liability system.

Section 10607 (p.344 of the Manager’s) establishes a 5-year grant program. The program is administered by the HHS Secretary (Sebelius), in consultation with a review panel. The review panel is structured to ensure that trial lawyers are amply represented, with seats specifically reserved for “patient advocates,” “attorneys with expertise in representing patients,” and “patient safety experts.”

Of course, the unnamed source fails to note that health care companies, defense lawyers and insurance companies are "amply represented," too. Read the bill yourself: alongside the patient advocates on those panels are "Health care providers and health care organizations,” “Attorneys with expertise in representing patients and health care providers,” and “Medical malpractice insurers.”

The source also says:

Nothing about this language requires that the “alternative to litigation” decreases litigation costs.

Nonsense. In order to receive a grant, states have to show how their plan “improves access to liability insurance." After they receive a grant, states’ plans will be evaluated by factors such as “the disposition of disputes and claims, including the length of time and estimated costs to all parties” and “the medical liability environment.”

The Pop Tort has a more reasonable view:

Here is some of what we like about it: it proposes to give money to states to consider litigation alternatives, but only programs that are shown to improve patient safety, are voluntary and allow patients to opt, and do not limit a patient’s legal rights.  Clearly, if this passes (the House bill currently has something similar), we will have our battles at the state level as certain well-funded forces try to impose anti-patient measures like “Health Courts.”  But we’ll cross that bridge, as they say….

Whatever is done, we hope it works to reduce errors, but not just in hospitals, (here, here, here, for example) but also those of incompetent individual doctors, who by the way already have more liability protections for their negligence than any other profession in the country. 

Frankly, the biggest problem in the debate over medical malpractice liability in this country is the absence of concrete data. There’s no agreement on how much medical malpractice occurs or how much damage it causes, nor any agreement on the effect of health care providers’ insurance premiums on access to medical care. There’s also only one major study on the reliability of the medical malpractice system, which tort reformers and trial lawyers both read to say whatever they want it to say.

Much like with the Comparative Effectiveness Research proposals, the biggest benefit of these "demonstration programs" will likely not be the discovery of a perfect recipe for the medical malpractice system, but rather the accumulation of data that will inform future debates.