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Press Release

    Lawyers or Doctors?

    05/30/2004

    Excerpt from the Providence Journal

    “ONE OF THE GREAT mysteries of American politics is why Democrats won't help fix medical-malpractice laws. It's not totally a mystery, of course. Trial lawyers inject a lot of money into the Democratic cash stream, and they expect inaction in return.

    But the Democrats are supposed to be the party of health care. The soaring costs of malpractice insurance are forcing doctors in high-risk specialties to quit. Obstetricians have stopped delivering babies. Emergency rooms are closing. Neurosurgeons are moving away to states with reforms in place.

    Letting lawyers siphon mega-millions from the nation's medical system is morally wrong and a total loser with the public. In a battle that pits family doctors against lawyers, do Democrats really want to side with the lawyers?

    Nevertheless, Democrats voted in droves against a recent House bill that would limit malpractice awards. The measure was modeled on successful California reforms, which have contained malpractice-insurance costs in that lawsuit-happy state. The legislation did pass, but is sure to die in the Senate.

    The bill lets victims of malpractice collect for all lost wages and health-care costs. What irks the lawyers is a $250,000 limit on pain and suffering. That's where the money is. You can't really stick a dollar sign on such non-economic losses, so sky's the limit.

    The game is to keep suing doctors until the lawyers hit the jackpot. In one famous case, a New York jury awarded $140 million last year to the family of a boy who had suffered permanent brain damage after surgery. Numbers like these keep the lawyers going. (They keep a third or more of the money.)

    Democrats have taken to parading grief-stricken parents and young people in wheelchairs around Capitol Hill. Many have been genuinely hurt by incompetent doctors and deserve compensation.

    But these sad spectacles have not distracted Americans from what's really at stake. The public can distinguish between making people whole and making them tycoons -- especially when the costs come out of a stressed medical system. It knows that most tragedies don't necessarily draw mega-lottery-sized payments. When soldiers die in war, their families aren't handed checks in the eight figures.

    About 74 percent of Americans see malpractice-insurance costs as a ‘crisis’ or ‘major problem,’ according to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation survey. And 60 percent think that malpractice lawsuits are a very important factor in rising health-care costs.”