New York — President Barack Obama's U.S. deficit commission endorsed the creation of specialized health courts when a bipartisan majority of its members approved its report on Dec.3. The commission—formally known as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—called for health courts specifically in the section of its report on health care savings. It reads in part:
Among the policies pursued, the following should be included: ...
4) Creating specialized "health courts" for medical malpractice lawsuits; and
5) Allowing "safe haven" rules for providers who follow best practices of care.
"Health courts are essential to controlling rapidly rising health care costs, as well as restoring the trust in justice needed for safe care," said Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chair of Common Good, the nonprofit organization that originated the concept of health courts and has been championing it aggressively. "At a time of intense partisanship in Washington, D.C., it's especially notable that bipartisan support—as evidenced by the vote of the federal deficit commission—is growing for health courts, which would restore reliability to medical justice, reduce the costly waste of defensive medicine, and rebuild trust in the doctor-patient relationship."
In developing the concept of health courts, Common Good has worked in conjunction with experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Health courts would have judges dedicated full-time to resolving health care disputes. The judges would make written rulings to provide guidance on proper standards of care. These rulings would set precedents on which both patients and doctors could rely. As with similar administrative courts that exist in other areas of law—for tax disputes, workers' compensation, and vaccine liability, among others—there would be no juries. To assure predictability and fairness, each ruling could be appealed to a new Medical Appellate Court.
In addition to the federal deficit commission, three other bipartisan commissions have recently endorsed health courts:
— the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (at the New America Foundation);
— the Debt Reduction Task Force of the Bipartisan Policy Center; and
— Esquire magazine's Commission to Balance the Federal Budget.
On March 2, President Obama endorsed health courts, in a letter to Congressional leaders, and proposed an appropriation of $50 million for additional demonstration grants including health courts.