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Mr. President, I rise today to talk about patient safety. There is bipartisan legislation pending in the Senate that is absolutely critical to reducing healthcare errors and increasing healthcare quality. It's S. 720, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee reported this bill to the floor in November of last year. It was approved in the committee by a unanimous voice vote, and it's past time for the Senate to vote on and pass this important legislation.

Mr. President, this patient safety legislation is an important step toward building a culture of safety and quality in health care.

The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act would create a framework through which hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers can work to improve health care quality in a protected legal environment. The bill would grant privilege and confidentiality protections to health care providers to allow them to report health care errors and "near misses" to patient safety organizations. The bill also would allow these patient safety organizations to collect and analyze the data confidentially.

After analyzing the data, patient safety organizations would report on trends in healthcare errors and offer guidance to providers on how to eliminate or minimize these errors. Some of this takes place today, but much more information could be collected and analyzed if providers felt confident that reporting these errors did not increase the likelihood that they or their colleagues would be sued for honest mistakes. This legislation would not permit anyone to hide information about a medical mistake. Under the bill, lawyers could still access medical records and other information that would normally be discoverable in a legal proceeding. However, the bill would ensure that the analysis of that information by patient safety organizations would take place on a separate track in a protected legal environment.

Healthcare providers will be much more likely to share information about honest mistakes and how to prevent them if they have some assurance that the analysis of their information won't result in a tidy package of information that a personal injury lawyer could use against them in court.

Errors in medical treatment take place far too often today. Unfortunately, providers live in fear of our unpredictable and unfair medical litigation system, and this legal fear inhibits efforts to address the root causes of health care errors. Without appropriate protections for the collection and analysis of patient safety data, providers are unwilling to report mistakes and errors, which is one of the reasons that health care quality today is not what it could be.

Litigation does nothing to improve quality or safety. The constant threat of litigation instead stifles honest analysis of why health errors happen. This is just one more reason why we need wholesale reform of our medical litigation system. We need to foster alternatives that restore trust between patients and providers and result in fair and reliable outcomes for both parties. We need to scrap the current system, not just cap it.

But until we do so, we should take whatever steps we can to create an environment that protects the collection and analysis of patient safety data so that providers can learn from their mistakes and prevent them from happening in the future.

The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act is one of these steps. Yesterday, our committee chairman, Senator Gregg, asked for unanimous consent that we move to consideration of this legislation on the Senate floor. This is the third time he has done so. Each time, he has been blocked by our colleagues in the minority, even though the committee of jurisdiction was unanimous in its support for the bill. Mr. President, my colleagues in the minority keep talking about problems with healthcare quality - just like they keep talking about the loss of American jobs. However, talk is cheap when their actions don't match up to their words. If they are really so concerned about improving healthcare in our Nation, why would they object to a bill that would reduce errors and improve patient safety, particularly a bipartisan bill with unanimous committee support? If they are really so concerned about American workers and jobs, why won't they let a bill improving the nation's job-training system go to conference?

This is another example of what's happening - or not happening - here in the Senate. We have a bill - a bipartisan bill - that will help workers get back to work or find better jobs. This bill will equip our workforce with the skills necessary for America to compete - and succeed - in the global economy. It reauthorizes and improves the Nation's job training and employment system created under the Workforce Investment Act.

The Workforce Investment Act provides job training and employment services to more than 900,000 unemployed workers each year. Just like the patient safety legislation, this bipartisan bill passed out of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unanimously. We passed it on the Senate floor by unanimous consent last November. That's as bipartisan as you can possibly get.

Where is the bill now? We can't get a conference committee appointed to resolve differences with the House. If we really want to take care of jobs and workers in this Country, we should appoint conferees for the Workforce Investment Act legislation. I can only conclude that my Colleagues on the other side of the aisle are more concerned with election year politics than helping American workers, or improving patient safety. There are differences between Republicans and Democrats on most of the big issues facing our Nation. If my colleagues in the minority want to bottle up legislation with which they disagree, that is their prerogative. But that's not what I'm talking about.

What we have here are a few members of the minority party holding up bipartisan bills that receive unanimous approval in committee, and holding up conferences on bills that receive unanimous support on the Senate floor.

The only logical conclusion I can make is that these roadblocks are based on politics, not policy, and that is a shame.

Right now, the Senate floor reminds me of the airspace above a busy airport. We've got a number of bipartisan bills lined up for their final approach, but our colleagues in the minority are holding these bills up and won't allow them to land. The tactics of my colleagues in the minority give new meaning to the term "holding pattern."

Mr. President, it's time for our Democrat colleagues to break this holding pattern so that we can pass these bipartisan bills like the Patient Safety Act and the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. These are not only bipartisan bills, but they received unanimous committee support.

Let's set election politics aside for a moment. These are bipartisan bills, so no one party can claim credit for their passage. The Patient Safety Act was introduced by the distinguished Senator from Vermont, Senator Jeffords who is the lone independent in the Senate. So this bill is more than bipartisan. My distinguished colleague from Nevada, Senator Reid, suggested yesterday that we should just approve the House-passed patient safety bill. He suggested that he should just take up the House bill, rather than pass the Senate bill, because the Members of the House are the true experts on complex legislation like this. I wonder if my colleague's opinion would be the same on medical liability reform. After all, the expert legislators in the House have sent us some excellent legislation to reform our medical litigation system. Perhaps we should stop working on this in the Senate and just approve the House-passed bill.

Or perhaps we could take up the House-passed bill on the Workforce Investment Act. I know my Democrat colleagues with whom I've worked to craft a Senate version are confident that our version is the superior one, but if Senator Reid believes that the Members of the House are superior legislators, perhaps he could convince my Democrat coauthors that we ought to just take up the House bill and pass it. Or, as I have suggested, why don't we just agree to go to conference with the House and come up with the best possible bill we can, one that reflects the expertise of Members of both the Senate and the House?

Mr. President, I hope our colleagues in the minority will agree to take two hours of their time to debate and vote on the bipartisan Patient Safety Act. Two hours is not a lot of time, and it's the least we can do on such an important piece of legislation. We've spent hours upon hours working on this bill in committee and crafting a bill that received unanimous bipartisan support. Let's spend two more hours on the Patient Safety Act so that we improve the quality and safety of healthcare in America.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.