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Coburn Rebuts Obama on Tort Reform, Medicare Cuts

9:05 PM, Feb 25, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Oklahoma Republican senator Tom Coburn says he had a "pretty positive attitude" leaving today's health care summit at the Blair House in Washington. He had even suggested Obama and lawmakers have another such meeting on health care. But now, after reading news reports saying that Democrats are set on using reconciliation to ram the Senate bill through Congress, Coburn is wondering if today's summit was pointless.

Coburn Rebuts Obama on Tort Reform, Medicare Cuts

"It's fairly disappointing," Dr. Coburn told THE WEEKLY STANDARD this evening. "If the Dems are just going to run the bill anyway, why’d we just do it?"

Coburn's remarks today focused on waste in the health care system, which totals one-third of all health care costs. Due to time constraints, Coburn didn't get a chance to correct some of President Obama's misconceptions about what causes waste and how to reduce it. 

Obama said during his closing remarks that "if we're serious about delivery system reform, if we're serious about squeezing out the waste that Tom Coburn referred to, you should embrace those mechanisms that are in this bill" such as Medpac, an independent board that would recommend Medicare cuts.

But Coburn wants to control costs by creating a transparent health care market that is "patient-centered," not a "government-centered" plan that uses MedPac to cut Medicare. "The whole idea at the time of Medpac is to ration care," Coburn said. "The way you change behaviors is to incentivize them. You don't come down with a rule and a hammer. What you need is a scalpel not a hammer."

Obama said today that tort reform would only save $5 billion a year, but Coburn replied this evening that tort reform would, in fact, do the most to save consumers money.

"The biggest cost driver that accounts for this 33% [of health care waste] is defensive medicine," Coburn said. Obama's figure, based on a CBO report, doesn't take into account all the tests doctors needlessly order to avoid lawsuits.

"You fix the tort system in this country and you’ll cut costs like crazy. It’s $250 billion a year in defensive medicine costs," Coburn said. "If you just got rid of half of that, in one year you’d cut everyone’s cost of health care five percent."

Coburn's final word for the president on health care: "The last thing in the world he ought to do is divide this country further over this issue."

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