‘Tort Reform’ Will Not Resolve Our Healthcare Crisis

Well, Republicans stood up and clapped for President Obama last Wednesday night when he said he was going to have his Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on Bush administration initiative of demonstration projects studying whether in doctors practicing defensive medicine are contributing to unnecessary medical costs, how to put patient safety first and to let doctors focus on practicing medicine. Interesting time to clap when our country needs Congress to seriously address how this country delivers healthcare. Perhaps, shouting “you lie” instead of respectfully listening and considering alternatives is where we are in the political arena.

The priority should be safety of the patient.

Critics on the right have and are continuing to cite the lack of tort reform as a major deficiency of the current proposals on the medical crisis debate. Big business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have spent millions of dollars in a public relations campaign aimed at demonizing trial lawyers, portraying them as unethical con-artists out to game the system. Frankly, I am tired of it. People come to us in time of need and we try to resolve those needs. In doing so, we may upset or offend big businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. Who else is going to stand up to them? Trial lawyers are the people’s first line of defense to secure redress of grievances for private or civil wrongs committed against them. The most highly publicized of these kinds of cases usually involve David and Goliath-type scenarios—think of the massive frauds committed by WorldCom, Enron, or Bernie Madoff or products liability claims against major manufacturers where to make a profit safety devices were ignored or credit card abusive fees or landlords leaning on the poor or the nursing home patient who does not get any food , water or get turned because the nursing home is pulling in a huge profit or the ………..list goes on and on. Yes, sometimes these cases involve substantial claims against doctors or hospitals accused of malpractice.

Interesting though I have never seen the medical malpractice ‘reformers’ cite the 2007, Congressional Budget Office study that estimates that costs associated with medical malpractice claims only amounted to 2% of overall health care spending. Nor have they cited a number of other studies that suggest that the high cost of medical insurance has virtually no correlation with the frequency or amount of malpractice payouts but is actually a result of insurance companies playing the market and—in some cases—intentionally misrepresenting the influence of malpractice payouts in order to keep premiums high.

Just look at Texas with all its medical malpractice caps passed in 2001, but which has three of the top ten most expensive cities in the country to receive health care: McAllen, Harlingen and Corpus Christi. In each of these cities, every Medicare patient is costing the country more than $10,000 a year (a couple thousand more than the national average).

Shouldn’t Congress and the medical community be focusing on real solutions to our health care crisis? Let’s face it medical malpractice is real and profoundly affects the victims when physician, hospital, nursing home and other health care providers violate the standards of care each promise to provide. Why shouldn’t they be held responsible like you or I are when they run medical stop signs and injure somebody? According to studies conducted over the last decade, up to 98,000 people die every year as a result of an estimated 15 million instances of PREVENTABLE medical errors. These statistics place death by malpractice as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

Lest we forget, the 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to a fair trial before a jury of their peers. This right is a foundational principle of our civil liberty. To take that away when the facts do not support the rhetoric about medical malpractice is to do exactly the opposite of what conservatives and liberals all should hold dear – each of us should be responsible and accountable before the law. The importance of a civil justice system that protects everyone and treats all litigants—rich and poor alike—as equals before the law should not be swept under the rug in guise of health reform.

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