Senate's 'Health Week' Gives Greedy Trial Lawyers the Jitters

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has labeled this “health week” in the U.S. Senate. In reality, Democrats have turned it into “enrich trial lawyers” week. While Republicans have sought to slow rapid growth in health care costs, the Democrats’ loyal ties to the American Association of Trial Lawyers have mandated they sham consumers, hiding behind a façade made to look as if they give a damn about rising health care costs when socialized medicine is not at issue.

Senate bills S. 22 and S. 23 sought to control the exorbitant growth in medical malpractice premiums, which, according to the American Medical Association, account for 10% of annual increases in consumer healthcare costs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R.-Tex.) noted yesterday that recent growth rates in malpractice insurance premiums surpassed 100%, with 147% being the most recent annual growth rate. As a result, Hutchison reported that 138 Texas counties lacked pediatricians prior to the 2003 malpractice reform in her state.Yet, here we are complaining about paying $3 a gallon for gas when obstetricians pay an average $277,000 a year in malpractice premiums regardless of whether or not they have been accused of malpractice, according to the June 2005 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Like any other business, fixed costs of operation are passed on to the consumer. The rise in malpractice premiums for obstetricians has consequently prompted rapid growth in the costs of obstetrical and gynecological care, leading insurance companies to reduce or drop coverage for obstetric and gynecological services.

Firmly believing that costs incurred by suppliers have no affects whatsoever on consumer prices, and further that all instances of malpractice occur with malicious intent, the Democrats blocked a bill that would have limited non-economic damage claims to $250,000 and leave economic damages uncapped. The caps would not pre-empt state laws. Further, the bill would have mandated that the jury prove, beyond doubt, malicious intent before punitive damages can be awarded. Perhaps the most anathema to Democrats stemmed from the bills assurance that most of the damages awarded to the plaintiff actually go to the plaintiff, by capping lawyers’ contingency fees at 15% of all awards over $600,000. If Republicans are sometimes guilty of corporate welfare, Democrats always have and always will favor trial lawyers over doctors and patients. After all, the trial lawyers are one of the party’s biggest donors.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) stated on the Senate floor, in the twisted logic of a pathological liar, that the bill protected an elite few (doctors) over the masses (patients). He further stated that the bill would only make malpractice insurers richer. The fact is, if they get much richer, the malpractice insurers will exit the market as a result of said action by physicians. Without customers, industries collapse. It is a fact of life.

The American Association of Trial Lawyers, in a full-page ad in the May 8 edition of the New York Times asked patients to sham themselves by asking their senators to reject any form of malpractice reform. If the ad was placed merely out of concern for their clients, among tomorrow’s New York Times headlines will be “Hell Freezes, Prompting World End” and “Saddam wins Nobel Peace Prize.” I wonder if the New York Times would run an ad from Exxon-Mobil urging citizens to ask their senators to support a bill that would allow them to dump oil into the public’s water supply?

It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that any politician wants to obstruct justice for patients who have experienced hardship as a result of medical mistakes. There is however, a big difference between justice and milking a physician for all he’s worth if there was no malicious intent behind the malpractice. Like serving in the military, undergoing medical treatment carries with it inherent risks and possibilities that are often beyond the control of attending physicians. In cases of malicious intent, one conviction of such a travesty should result in permanent revocation of the physician’s medical license.

The practice of medicine is perhaps the most labor and academically intensive pursuits in the world. The first and foremost responsibility of medical doctors is to their patients. While it cannot be said that criminals don’t exist in the medical field, it is wrong to bring financial ruin to physicians and fellow patients by suing for whatever amount the jury will award. Not only does it drive physicians out of practice, but it fuels the never-ending growth in healthcare costs. Since Texas reformed its malpractice laws in 2003, malpractice premiums have significantly decreased, as have lawsuits.

The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S. 1955) would expand the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to allow small businesses to band together and purchase health insurance for their employees through trade associations and chambers of commerce. It would also allow them to purchase out-of-state plans, allowing businesses to circumvent state regulations. Democrats claim that the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act will allow employers to offer threadbare coverage, as some healthcare plans are better in some states. Under S. 1955, employers will be choosing the plan that will also cover them as the small business owner. I somehow doubt small business entrepreneurs would have many incentives to choose skinflint health insurance plans when it will apply to their family as well. But wait, the Democrats’ other large donor group, labor unions, already have this privilege. They also have a right to demand ridiculous ($25/hour for a UPS deliveryman) wages while public school teachers struggle to make ends meet. Readers, do you begin to see the pattern here?

The obstruction of justice and equality by Democrats during “health week” further serves to illustrate exactly who is looking out for whom in Washington. While Republicans view the glass as half-full for the average American, Democrats see the glass as half-empty for trial lawyers. If only we could get the New York Times to report it.


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