Reducing Health Care Costs ‘On the Backs of Injured Patients’

During his first year in office, President Barack Obama tried to win Republican support for his health care overhaul by agreeing to consider medical malpractice reform in his plan. Obama told the CBS program “60 Minutes” that he did not believe such reform is a “silver bullet,” but he had spoken to enough doctors to know that “defensive medicine” might be contributing to unnecessary costs. “What I would be willing to do is to consider any ideas out there that would actually work in terms of reducing costs, improving the quality of patient care,” Obama said in the interview. “So far the evidence I’ve seen is that caps will not do that.”

Less than two years later, remarks in Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech vowed to take up medical malpractice reform “to rein in frivolous lawsuits,” ushering in immediate concerns that the cap limit was back in consideration. The Hill said Center for Justice & Democracy Executive Director Joanne Doroshow had testified the previous week before the House Judiciary Committee that lawmakers should not try to “reduce health care costs on the backs of injured patients.” Doroshow said in a statement, “To Republicans, this means proposals like across-the-board ‘caps’ on compensation for patients injured by medical negligence, particularly ‘non-economic damages caps’ that cover injuries like permanent disability, disfigurement, blindness, loss of a limb, loss of a women’s reproductive system, paralysis, trauma, or pain and suffering.”

The Hill reported that, sure enough, legislation had been introduced that same week in the House of Representatives seeking a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. That is the same cap limit that current presidential candidate Rick Santorum proposed in legislation while serving in Congress in 1994—even though his wife, Karen, sought twice that amount in filing her own medical malpractice lawsuit in 1999.

Likewise, other Republican nominees are similarly enthusiastic supporters of tort reform. Rick Perry claims Texas added 21,000 more doctors because of tort reform, even though the fact-checking website said the state actually added about 13,000 more doctors—with “historic trends” suggesting that “population growth was the driving factor.” Mitt Romney told the Detroit Economic Club that “America needs national tort reform,” even though some Tea Party leaders believe that the civil jury system is a part of the free market and federal tort reform violates state’s rights.

This is an important issue to keep in mind not only when casting your vote for president this November, but also when considering your votes for other offices as well. People who suffer the types of “non-economic damages” like Doroshow described are left with no other economic options, often feeling forced to enter a Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. I deal with a tremendous amount of people who have suffered emotionally because a job loss or missed mortgage payments have left them seeking foreclosure help. For many people filing bankruptcy, life indeed does get better afterward. People entering bankruptcy because of inadequate awards as a result of caps on damages, however, seem to have had a cap placed on their recovery as well.

Law Firm of Kevin D. Judd – Washington DC bankruptcy attorney

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