Health Care Reform, Plan B — Amputate the Errors

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Bill Clinton must have been licking his chops last week when a National Academy of Sciences report listed medical error as one of the nation's leading causes of death — and called for some measure of health care reform. Clinton's foiled attempt at sweeping health care reform remains one of the great failures of his domestic agenda. And so, in an attempt to beat the rest of the political world to the punch, Clinton announced a plan Monday to drastically reduce the number of medical errors perpetrated each year, which the NAS report listed as causing upwards of 98,000 deaths and nearly $9 billion in extra costs each year. The report included a comprehensive plan for halving those numbers within five years, including the creation of a new federal agency, at a cost of about $100 million per annum.

While the real teeth of this effort — the regulatory agency and the funding apparatus — are contained in a bill proposed by Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy, Clinton's executive order has more clout, since it could take effect in as little as two months with the benefit of no political haggling. The plan requires all insurance companies and medical providers that receive federal funding (roughly one third of all hospital and doctor visits) to develop practices to avoid medical errors. This is such a huge chunk of the medical industry that experts say it could lead to industry-wide reform. The President also received a pledge from the American Hospital Association to compile data on errors from its 5,000 member hospitals and implement a system to avoid the most common ones. But while this all may very well mean safer medical practices, it won't necessarily translate into any sort of health care legacy for the President. After all, who remembers when a mistake doesn't happen?