Statement On The State Of The Union Section On Medical Malpractice

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Less than one week after Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, testified before the House Judiciary Committee urging the Committee to stop trying to reduce health care costs on the backs of injured patients, it has been reported that in his State of the Union, President Obama will say, ‘I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.’ 

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. 

Tort restrictions like these apply across the board to all cases, not just ‘frivolous’ cases. Their provisions apply no matter how much merit a case has, or the extent of the misconduct of a hospital, doctor or HMO. They apply regardless of the severity of an injury. For many years, we have assisted families from around the nation who have traveled to Washington, D.C. to voice their strong opposition to provisions like this. These families are the forgotten faces in the debate over how to reduce health care costs, and it is disgusting that the President should be searching for ways to further harm these families. 

Medical negligence kills at least a hundred thousand people every year and injures ten times more, costing the economy tens of billions of dollars annually. The Republican proposals would weaken the legal rights of sick and injured patients and lessen the accountability of incompetent doctors and unsafe hospitals. Meanwhile, the insurance industry gets to pocket money that should be available to the sick and injured, forcing many to turn elsewhere for help, including Medicaid, further burdening taxpayers.

In other words, these measures would most likely increase the deficit, while unfairly increasing the obstacles that sick and injured patients face in the already difficult process of seeking compensation and prevailing in court. 

Not even the Congressional Budget Office believes these laws will save more than 0.5 percent in health care costs, which is likely a significant exaggeration, and could at the same time increase the U.S. death rate by .2 percent, killing over 4,000 people each year. 

The Republican ideas are severe and cruel. They guarantee that many injured patients will be shut out of court altogether. They will result in more Americans dying. And they will lead to deficit increases. The President should not be joining with Republicans in this unfair, brutal and misguided mission.

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