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Mark Bello
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Sarah Palin's Take On Health Care Reform: Support Local or National Justice Pacs

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I was given a ‘head’s up’ on this from a fellow Michigan attorney and I thought I would share it with my fellow Injury Board members. Did you know that Sarah Palin had a Facebook page? This is part of what she said, at that location, this morning:

As Governor of Alaska, I learned a little bit about being a target for frivolous suits and complaints (Please, do I really need to footnote that?). I went my whole life without needing a lawyer on speed-dial, but all that changes when you become a target for opportunists and people with no scruples. Our nation’s health care providers have been the targets of similar opportunists for years, and they too have found themselves subjected to false, frivolous, and baseless claims. To quote a former president, “I feel your pain.”

So what can we do? First, we cannot have health care reform without tort reform. The two are intertwined. For example, one supposed justification for socialized medicine is the high cost of health care. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb recently noted, “If Mr. Obama is serious about lowering costs, he’ll need to reform the economic structures in medicine—especially programs like Medicare.” [1] Two examples of these “economic structures” are high malpractice insurance premiums foisted on physicians (and ultimately passed on to consumers as “high health care costs”) and the billions wasted on defensive medicine.

Dr. Stuart Weinstein, with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, recently explained the problem:

”The medical liability crisis has had many unintended consequences, most notably a decrease in access to care in a growing number of states and an increase in healthcare costs.
Access is affected as physicians move their practices to states with lower liability rates and change their practice patterns to reduce or eliminate high-risk services. When one considers that half of all neurosurgeons—as well as one third of all orthopedic surgeons, one third of all emergency physicians, and one third of all trauma surgeons—are sued each year, is it any wonder that 70 percent of emergency departments are at risk because they lack available on-call specialist coverage?”
[2]

Dr. Weinstein makes good points, points completely ignored by President Obama. Dr. Weinstein details the costs that our out-of-control tort system are causing the health care industry and notes research that “found that liability reforms could reduce defensive medicine practices, leading to a 5 percent to 9 percent reduction in medical expenditures without any effect on mortality or medical complications.” Dr. Weinstein writes:

“If the Kessler and McClellan estimates were applied to total U.S. healthcare spending in 2005, the defensive medicine costs would total between $100 billion and $178 billion per year. Add to this the cost of defending malpractice cases, paying compensation, and covering additional administrative costs (a total of $29.4 billion). Thus, the average American family pays an additional $1,700 to $2,000 per year in healthcare costs simply to cover the costs of defensive medicine.
Excessive litigation and waste in the nation’s current tort system imposes an estimated yearly tort tax of $9,827 for a family of four and increases healthcare spending in the United States by $124 billion. How does this translate to individuals? The average obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) delivers 100 babies per year. If that OB-GYN must pay a medical liability premium of $200,000 each year (which is the rate in Florida), $2,000 of the delivery cost for each baby goes to pay the cost of the medical liability premium.”
[3]

You would think that any effort to reform our health care system would include tort reform, especially if the stated purpose for Obama’s plan to nationalize our health care industry is the current high costs.

So I have new questions for the president: Why no legal reform? Why continue to encourage defensive medicine that wastes billions of dollars and does nothing for the patients? Do you want health care reform to benefit trial attorneys or patients?

Many states, including my own state of Alaska, have enacted caps on lawsuit awards against health care providers. Texas enacted caps and found that one county’s medical malpractice claims dropped 41 percent, and another study found a “55 percent decline” after reform measures were passed. [4] That’s one step in health care reform. Limiting lawyer contingency fees, as is done under the Federal Tort Claims Act, is another step. The State of Alaska pioneered the “loser pays” rule in the United States, which deters frivolous civil law suits by making the loser partially pay the winner’s legal bills. Preventing quack doctors from giving “expert” testimony in court against real doctors is another reform.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry noted that, after his state enacted tort reform measures, the number of doctors applying to practice medicine in Texas “skyrocketed by 57 percent” and that the tort reforms “brought critical specialties to underserved areas.” These are real reforms that actually improve access to health care. [5]

Dr. Weinstein’s research shows that around $200 billion per year could be saved with legal reform. That’s real savings. That’s money that could be used to build roads, schools, or hospitals.
If you want to save health care, let’s listen to our doctors. There should be no health care reform without legal reform. There can be no true health care reform without legal reform.

Obviously, there is plenty here to take issue with here, but I want to continue to hammer away at my pet peeve with the baloney known as "tort reform". The former governor says she has experience with ‘false, frivolous and baseless claims", then proceeds to cite bogus medical industry statistics on how liability reform has impacted various states. As usual with this type of rhetoric, she crows about how "caps" have reduced the size of claims, like that is a good thing. What she doesn’t say, and no one who shares her views will say, is how "caps" on recovery in serious cases will stop the flow of "false, frivolous and baseless claims". IB members: When was the last time you hit a cap figure on any "false, frivolous or baseless claim"? As I have said in the past, any person who says that caps on damages is a cure for the frivolous case is an insurance company hack, a liar, misinformed, or all of the above.

We have all laughed and can continue to laugh at Sarah Palin. But, she is a voice of our opposition and she is popular with its’ extreme constituency. She is dangerous and should not be ignored. She and others in the fringe elements of her party continue to make the argument that meaningful health care reform requires tort reform, as well. We must continue to answer these baseless accusations that lawsuits against bad doctors for doing bad things to good people is, somehow, itself, a bad thing. Lawsuit Financial implores all attorneys: Support your local and national justice pacs. Do not let the radical right shape public opinion in a way that would abridge our constitutional rights to fair and impartial jury trials. If you ignore people like Sarah Palin and dismiss her as "dumb" or "foolish" or irrelevant, you will be sorry. Remember the last time we dismissed the ravings of a "dumb" politician? It was about 9 years ago….