President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act at a March 23, 2010, ceremony in the White House.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Forget for a moment that the healthcare reform bill actually passed. While Congress fought to a partisan finish over how to fix the nation's broken medical system, our elected representatives were quietly practicing a kind of "medical malpractice" behind the scenes. A serious charge? You bet. And we're not talking about their gold-plated health plans (though we think everyone should have those). Here's why we're calling Congress out on what it didn't do:

Issue 1: No push on lifestyle changes to treat type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
There's pretty convincing evidence that encouraging physical activity, stress management and healthful eating is more effective—and cheaper—than the best drugs for these diseases. Yet nowhere did even experimental lifestyle programs (called "pilots" in congressional language) come close to penetrating the Senate or House bills.

Issue 2: Never got tough about tort reform—even though it could save taxpayers billions of dollars.
Trial lawyers want you to believe that multimillion-dollar malpractice lawsuits are a patient's best defense against negligent doctors. But the truth is, blockbuster cases have little effect on the quality of the healthcare you receive, except to increase the amount of "defensive medicine" your doc feels compelled to practice—for example, ordering expensive tests just to be sure you don't sue in case something was missed. But as for megabuck lawsuits, 54 percent of the money from big settlements—gee, surprise—goes to the trial lawyers and administrative costs, according to a Harvard Medical School study. Less than half goes to patients and their families.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that limiting the damages in these cases could save $54 billion in 10 years, in part by cutting back on defensive medicine. But the healthcare bill didn't tackle this—even though one politician flat out told the public last summer that pressure from trial lawyers is why. Worse, not only were there no meaningful limits on malpractice suits in the bill, but some experts think it could even encourage trial lawyers to launch more lawsuits!

Issue 3: No action on food safety, so eat at your own risk.
While this wasn't a direct part of the bill, it's another vital piece of healthcare reform that went nowhere. From bacteria-laced peanut butter and seafood to tainted spinach and tomatoes, contaminated food sickens 76 million Americans each year and kills 5,000. A big cause: the overburdened FDA. But the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which would give the agency more money and greater control over the food supply, has gone nowhere in Washington. A version made its way to the Senate last July, but the senators never voted on it. Why? They said they were "too busy" with healthcare reform!

What can you do about these gaping holes in healthcare reform? Shout out. Call, write or email your representative and senators. Tell them where you stand on these issues, and remind them that you pay their salaries and will vote against anyone who doesn't start working for you. It's never too late to fix things that are broken.

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