In hammering out health care reforms, US Senators on the Finance Committee are now considering proposals to change how medical malpractice lawsuits are handled.

The first possibility is to establish a special courts in which a judge with medical expertise would hear malpractice case, according to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). Under this scenario, it is assumed that a medical judge would not be as easily swayed by emotion as lay juries. Another possibility includes the option of arbitration and some liability protection for doctors following “best practice” clinical standards in treatment of patients. From the [removed]Associated Press via Google[/removed]:

Many economists are skeptical that malpractice insurance premiums paid by doctors — or even the practice of defensive medicine to avoid litigation — are major reasons for soaring health care costs. But the issue looms large politically because many conservatives in both parties are convinced that doctors routinely order up tests their patients don't need because they're afraid of getting sued.

Obama's overture in his Wednesday night speech could give him a way to peel off some Republican votes, as well as shore up support from moderates in his own party. The president said that while he doesn't see malpractice changes as a "silver bullet," he's talked to enough doctors to suspect that fear of litigation contributes to unnecessary costs. He's directing the Health and Human Services Department to provide funding for pilot programs to test some alternatives to litigation.

"I hope this signals a commitment to meaningful malpractice reform," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., one of only three Republicans in the Senate still negotiating with Democratic counterparts seeking an elusive bipartisan compromise.

Doctors' groups, which lost the battle for national limits on jury awards for pain and suffering, now see a possibility for other ways to reduce malpractice lawsuits.

Read about it [removed]here[/removed] and here — including responses from AMA spokespersons and a poor soul representing trial lawyers (who see the possible changes will be ruinous for them).