I have been waiting for this; it was inevitable. Someone has tied the healthcare debate to "tort reform". In an article appearing in the Washington Examiner, Governor Haley Barbour, of Mississippi, opines that President Obama’s health care plan goes
"too far, too soon, too fast and will cost too much"
The good governor claims that Americans are concerned because the health care system represents 18% of our economy and because it involved life or death decisions. He claims that citizens know little about the plan, but that it will, definitely contain large (multi-billion dollar) Medicare cuts and huge tax increases (funny comment from someone who, admittedly, has received "little solid information").
He also complains about the Obama time constraints placed on passage of the proposed legislation; here and only here, he and I are in agreement. This legislation is too important and too expensive to have artificial time deadlines attached to it. Congress: Take your time; weigh your options, and give us a sensible bill that provides solid benefits to all and the ability for wealthier segments of our society to obtain additional quality if they are willing to pay for it.
Governor Barbour complains that we are in a deep rescession and that now is not the time for an additional 8 percent payroll tax. He complains that the government will make it more expensive to employ people. The argument is nonsense. As a businessman with a payroll and employee healthcare responsibilities, I know that my employee’s healthcare costs, currently paid by my company, are far more than 8% of my company’s obligations. The healthcare savings should offset any tax increase. Controlling healthcare costs will result in more hiring, not less, as the governor would have us believe.
I have saved the best for last. Governor Barbour says that he may support a healthcare bill if it includes ‘tort reform’:
"And, folks can’t understand how a proposal proponents claim will control health care costs doesn’t include tort reform. After all, litigation and the resulting practice of defensive medicine add tens of billions to the cost of health care."
He then brags about the fact that Mississippi passed tort reform in 2004, partially to stop ‘lawsuit abuse’ in medical malpractice cases. He claims that it worked, because medical liability insurance costs have been reduced, and doctors have received premium rebates. Medical Malpractice lawsuit fell almost 90% and doctors quit leaving the state.
So, what his tirade against the healthcare bill was really about was the usual, tired attack on victims and their attorneys. Mississippi tort reform does not penalize anyone for "lawsuit abuse"; that term is one invented by the insurance industry and the United State Chamber of Commerce, pro-insurance, anti-consumer organizations. Mississippi tort reform penalizes victims who file legitimate claims and seeks to limit the amounts of recovery available for serious breaches of conduct and serious consequences. It does not seek to punish those who bring worthless cases; it seeks to limit recovery on serious ones. Yes, bad doctors will stay in Mississippi and continue to practice bad medicine on Mississippi citizens. Why shouldn’t they? There are now limits placed on their liability for wrongful conduct.
Lawsuit Financial’s questions to the governor are: Why would you want these doctors to stay? So they can continue to bad things to the good people who trusted them? So they can violate patient trust in permanent and excrutiating ways? Why are you so interested in protecting the doctors and the insurance industry and so disinterested in protecting your citizens with quality healthcare and unrestricted access to the court system when they are maimed or killed by a doctor’s negligence? Answer those questions, Governor Barbour; then we will take your healthcare concerns more seriously.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.