In last Wednesday night’s address, President Obama directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on Bush administration initiative of demonstration projects in individual state to test whether doctors are truly practicing defensive medicine contributing to unnecessary costs, how to put patient safety first and to let doctors focus on practicing medicine. This statement was one of the few times the Republican side of Congress stood up to clap. But what is really happening? What will these projects discover?
The priority should be safety of the patient. I trust no one can disagree about that. 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. Never have I seen them 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.
Mike Ferrara in his blog of September 7 referred everyone to Texas with all its 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.
Perhaps, I am worrying unnecessarily. If the projects the President is proposing are performed in a non-political atmosphere, the true facts will come to light. What I fear is that politics will control the day not common sense.
Civil litigation attorney Billy Cunningham practice concentrates on personal injury, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, business litigation, environmental law and insurance matters. He is licensed to practice in the state and federal courts of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as in the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States.