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Edwards Has Clashed With Insurance Industry

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Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has picked a running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who lists a victory in a managed care suit in his candidate fact sheet.[@@]

The Kerry campaign notes in the fact sheet that Edwards, who started out as a personal injury lawyer, “fought for Ethan Bedrick,” a boy who was born in 1992 with cerebral palsy.

“All of [Ethan's] doctors determined that he would need daily physical therapy to prevent him from losing the ability to use his arms and legs,” the fact sheet states. “Ethan’s HMO overruled all of his doctors. Edwards and his law firm represented Ethan’s family, and together they won.”

In 2001, Edwards helped write a managed care bill that would have given group plan members a legal right to sue their plans for actual damages and some punitive damages in addition to enforcement of benefit contracts.

Edwards wrote in an opinion article published in May 2003 in The Washington Post that the government ought to start reducing malpractice insurance costs by taking insurance companies’ antitrust exemption away and limiting insurance companies’ ability to cooperate to set rates.

But Edwards also wrote that state medical boards ought to take tougher action against the small number of doctors who generate most malpractice claims, and he suggested that lawyers ought to “swear that an expert doctor is ready to testify that real malpractice has occurred” before bringing malpractice cases to court.

“Lawyers who file frivolous cases should face tough, mandatory sanctions,” Edwards wrote. “Lawyers who file 3 frivolous cases should be forbidden to bring another suit for the next 10 years — in other words, 3 strikes and you’re out.”

Edwards’ supporters argue that he has defended innocent, severely injured Americans against terrible wrongdoing.

But the American Tort Reform Association, Washington, a group that helps represent health insurers and doctors as well as other opponents of the current tort system, has expressed serious reservations about the Edwards nomination.

“Senator Edwards has consistently supported a pro-litigation, anti-civil justice reform agenda that puts his wealthy personal injury lawyer patrons ahead of the American people,” ATRA President Sherman Joyce says.

Sherman describes the cost of the current tort system as an expensive tax.

“Under a Kerry-Edwards administration, the tort tax will undoubtedly go up,” Sherman says.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, declined to take a position on Kerry’s decision to pick Edwards as his running mate.

“We already know that Americans care a lot about health care access and cost,” says AHIP spokesman Mohit Ghose. But Ghose emphasizes that his group is bipartisan and will talk to anyone who is open to a serious discussion about health care policy.