President Bush last week continued to argue his case for reforming the tort system for medical malpractice lawsuits with a speech in what many tort reform advocates would consider the heart of enemy territory, Collinsville in Madison County, Illinois.
Speaking to the Illinois State Medical Society, President Bush said that while many factors in the rising costs of health care are necessary, such as for research and drug development, the system is also being bogged down by unnecessary expenses.
“Many of the costs that were talking about dont start in an examining room or an operating room. They start in a courtroom,” the president said. “Whats happening all across this country is that lawyers are filing baseless suits against hospitals and doctors. Thats just a plain fact. And theyre doing it for a simple reason. They know the medical liability system is tilted in their favor.”
As a result of this imbalance in the judicial system, the president added, health care providers are deciding to settle cases, even those without merit, and passing the costs on to their patients.
“When insurance premiums rise, doctors have no choice but to pass some of the costs on to their patients,” he said. “That means youre paying for junk lawsuits every time you go to see your doctor. Thats the effect of all the lawsuits. It affects your wallet. If youre a patient, it means youre paying a higher cost to go see your doctor.”
The president noted that his audience of doctors in Madison and neighboring St. Clair County are especially aware of the problem. Both counties were listed among the top “judicial hellholes” in an annual survey by the American Tort Reform Association “as a national haven for asbestos claims” and malpractice suits.
“In other words,” the president said, “if you see a team of trial lawyers spending a lot of time in the Collinsville area, you can be pretty sure theyre not looking for horseradish.”
Medical malpractice tort reform is one of the areas the president has targeted for spending the “political capital” he believes he earned after the November election. Among the proposals he is pushing for is a $250,000 cap on non-economic “pain and suffering” damages, reserving punitive damages for only the most egregious cases, allowing awards to be paid out over time and requiring defendants to pay only the percentage of the award equal to their amount of liability.
The president said he came to Madison County to show he understands the problem doctors are facing. Additionally he argued that a national solution is needed, based on his experience with the issue on the state level.
“Ive come to this part of the world because I want to assure you that, one, I understand the problem and I intend to work with Congress to do something about it,” the president said. “You know, when I was the Governor of Texas, I felt that we could solve medical liability issues at the state level. And there were two things wrong with that strategy. One is that a state would pass good medical liability reform, and all the trial lawyers would do is go to the state that has lousy medical liability law. So, youre not solving the problem, youre just shifting the problem.”
Industry supporters of the presidents plan welcomed the speech and the promise that medical malpractice tort reform will be a priority in 2005.
Speaking for health insurers, Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of Americas Health Insurance Plans, voiced support for the president and the hope that he will continue to support the reforms on class-action and med mal litigation he has laid out in the past. “I hope the president will continue with his past themes,” Ignagni said. “It is time to end the litigation lottery.”
Ignagni added that “our industry hopes the president will lay out a program that will end the irresponsible litigation on the part of the trial lawyers.”
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, January 6, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.