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Cut back on malpractice suits, Bush says

President Bush has denounced the increase in medical malpractice lawsuits, which he says discourage research and limit medical care. Addressing medical experts at Johns Hopkins University on Thursday, Bush urged them "to avoid the understandable urge to practice defensive medicine, where doctors fearing litigation too often dictate treatment that is unnecessary."

In return, the president said, he already has directed the Domestic Policy Council to find ways "to restore common sense and fairness to America's medical malpractice system," a major contributor to higher health costs.

It was Bush's first major address on the nation's health care system.

The president encouraged Americans to be less inclined to sue medical practitioners and to adopt more healthful lifestyles.

"We've got to remember a simple truth: Not every unfortunate medical outcome is the result of poor medicine. You cannot make life risk-free. No risk means no progress," Bush said. "And that's not the American way.

"Eat sensibly. Exercise. Wear seat belts. Don't smoke, and if you do smoke _ stop. Don't abuse alcohol _ and don't use illegal drugs."

Bush complained that "the threat of lawsuits threatens the very research that is so desperately needed today to save lives" because of fears that experimental procedures could lead to a courtroom if they fail.

Bush cited as an example the work of Dr. William Halsted, a Johns Hopkins physician who developed the radical mastectomy, a surgical treatment credited with saving thousands of women with breast cancer.

"The procedure was unprecedented in its time," Bush said. "Yet in today's atmosphere of fear of malpractice (it) probably would never even have been attempted."

He added: "I also worry that the fear of malpractice limits the access of too many Americans in our rural areas to quality health care."

In recent years, some doctors have dropped or limited their practice because of an explosion of lawsuits, which have pushed up the cost of malpractice insurance.

The American Medical Association estimates that higher insurance premiums and extra tests ordered by doctors practicing "defensive medicine" has added $14-billion annually to health care costs.

Bush said "the best prescription for better health in America is a strong, daily dose of individual responsibility."