Archive for November 7th, 2009

I’m no expert

But that’s not going to stop me from writing about this.

Health care.  I don’t know if you guys are aware, because you have to be REALLY paying attention to have caught this, but there’s a huge debate going on in this country about the health care system.  It’s true.  If you don’t believe me, just google it and go to, say, page 10 or so and something is bound to come up.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t know the answer.  Though I think a nationalized health care program sounds more like the answer than anything else I’ve heard.  At a basic level, it seems like not only the morally right thing to do, but the option that would be best for our economy.  Having government control health care seems, to me, like it would reduce costs for American industry making it more competitive at home and overseas and give greater oversight into spiraling costs. I’m also one of those odd individuals who, despite a sometime Libertarian streak, actually thinks the government does a generally decent job in the things it runs.  For example, I think the criminal justice system is fairly decent while dealing with Charter is ridiculously bureaucratic and dumb.  In any event, the thing that truly bugs me about the whole debate is this: the popular talk that health care costs would be significantly lower if we could somehow just tame those nasty personal injury lawyers and put an end to extreme malpractice lawsuits.  This irks me for several reasons.

1.  Sometimes I think there’s some sort of feeling out there that if a doctor or nurse or hospital or anyone attached to the medical profession screws up, there should be little to no recourse for the victim.  People sometimes seem to think, “Well, it wasn’t on purpose, so let’s just move on.”  Of course it wasn’t on purpose.  People also don’t purposely run red lights or drive over the center line and cause accidents.  We have car insurance for just such non-purposeful events.  The same is true for doctors.  The same is true for lawyers or nail technicians or veterinarians or restaurant owners.  We have to have insurance to cover unexpected events — accidents.  And yes, of course it’s going to be more expensive for the medical industry since a lot more is at stake.  That’s just the nature of the job.

2.  There has already been a tremendous amount of ‘tort reform’ in that multiple states have capped the amount a jury can award a victim of medical malfeasance.  I don’t agree with these policies, but they are in place now and the insurance lobby has been very successful in obtaining them.

3.  And here’s probably the most important one for me.  The actual affect that medical malpractive litigation has on health care costs is so minimal it is almost not worth discussing.  I don’t know if Talking Heads use tort reform as a constant in their arsenal on reform because they really believe it is that important or if because, and this is the reason I actually suspect, it’s easier to use the lightning rod of lawyers than to try to affect actual change.  The thing is, every statistic I have ever seen shows that litigation costs (and malpractice insurance) account for — maybe — up to 1% of the cost of health care in the US.  Even if this is wrong, and it’s twice as much, that’s 2% of costs.  Eliminating those costs entirely would do just about nothing to change the out-of-control situation we’re in.  So I really wish people would cut it out and move on.

I know — you’re thinking, well, well, Kate, then what IS driving up costs.  Hell if I know.  I suspect it’s ridiculous profit margins, crazy expensive (and often unnecessary) tests and equipment, big salaries and little to no incentive to reduce costs.  But I don’t really know.  I know, though, that it’s not the lawyers.

Look, I know it’s popular to hate so-called ‘ambulance chasers.’  But I really urge you to think twice about this and maybe to read John Edwards (I know, I shouldn’t speak his name just yet) book, ‘Four Trials.’  I feel like people are usually apt to embrace movies like ‘A Civil Action’ and ‘The Verdict’ (both of which I like very much, as well), but when it comes to a case in the news, or when politicians use litigation costs as a platform, public opinion flips and suddenly the lawyers representing the victims are the bad guys.  And that’s something I don’t get.

Now of course the court system is vulnerable to huge abuse — by both lawyers and pro se litigants.  And by those hiring the lawyers.  But just because there are crappy claims out there doesn’t mean that there aren’t good ones and deserving people who need access to the legal system.  I venture to say that way more often than not the victim is the little guy, pitted against the megainsurance company and the odds are stacked way in you-know-whose favor.

Sorry for the rant but I’m officially bugged by this.  And I really don’t think it’s because I’m a lawyer.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Thoughts?


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