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Trial Lawyers To Obama: No Tort Reform

By Da King Published: February 17, 2010

Back in October, the CBO estimated that enacting medical tort reform legislation with a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering, along with a $500,000 cap on punitive damages, would save $54 billion over ten years. That's $54 billion in savings on Medicare/Medicaid alone, because the CBO estimates only government costs. If you add up the savings to the entire health care system, which the CBO estimates as 0.5% of health care costs, that comes to a savings of $11 billion per year, or $110 billion over a decade. The savings figures could be higher or lower depending on the damages caps. Other studies have shown the costs of defensive medicine associated with fears of malpractice lawsuits to be responsible for 18-28% of medical tests and 13% of hospitalizations. The actual cost savings with legitimate tort reform could be much, much greater than the CBO estimates.

Because the high cost of medical care is the core problem with the American health care system, and because those high costs are part of the reason our government is on an unsustainable path to bankruptcy, why would we NOT enact tort reform when it can save us so much money ? This shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's a common sense issue. It seems insane not to incorporate tort reform into ObamaCare, yet it is not there. The President has given lip service to the idea a few times, but he has never once vocalized a preference for caps for medical damages awards, never once said what those caps should be. If Obama truly wants to "bend down the cost curve," as he says repeatedly, tort reform is one sure way to do it.

Enter the trial lawyers, longtime campaign contributors to the Democratic party. Lawyers donated over $178 million to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle. 76% of lawyer donations went to Democrats. The trial lawyers and their back-pocket Democrats defeated former President Bush's attempt at medical liability reform in 2003 (Democrats voted unanimously against it), and the lawyers have successfully lobbied against tort reform in the current healthcare reform bills. The trial lawyers are now pressing Obama not to give in to significant tort reform in his upcoming meeting with Republicans on February 25th. From The Hill:

“I would hope this [tort reform] would be an area we just don’t go,” said Linda Lipsen, vice president for public affairs at the American Association for Justice, the trade group for trial attorneys.

Lipsen said. “The last thing Congress should be doing is eliminating people’s rights when the real issue is safety in hospitals.”

I wouldn't call $250,000/$500,000 awards for damages ($750,000 total) "eliminating people's rights" exactly. I'd say the lawyers are much more concerned about their big incomes being negatively affected. If the trial lawyers are sooo concerned with people's rights, if they are sooo worried about the people, maybe they could lower the 30-40% of the damages that they skim off the top of medical malpractice awards. Ask former Democratic VP candidate/presidential contender/ambulance chaser/lying-adulterer-while-his-wife-had-cancer/lying-paternity-denier John Edwards how he fared defending people's rights. He got very, very rich in the process. Maybe we don't need THAT. What we have here is lawyers living in mansions defending lawyers living in mansions. What we need is tort reform, then maybe we wouldn't have all those shysters trolling for clients with expensive television ads. Maybe then the lawsuits that were brought would be valid lawsuits, and we wouldn't be wasting billions more healthcare dollars on frivolous lawsuits. Americans WANT reform, even if the trial lawyers and their back-pocket Democrats do not.

Here's more from The Hill:

As recently as Tuesday, Obama floated the possibility of offering an olive branch to Republicans on malpractice reform as a gesture of bipartisanship. “I've said from the beginning of this debate I'd be willing to work on that [tort reform],” Obama remarked during a press briefing.

The White House announced on Friday that it will post a detailed health reform proposal online before the Feb. 25 bipartisan health summit, which Gregg was not invited to. It is unclear if that plan will be Obama’s own proposal or a merged version of the House and Senate-passed bills.

Obama says he is ready to "work on" tort reform, but he will arrive at the February 25th bipartisan health care meeting with a detailed health care reform plan already laid out.

Um, where is the bipartisanship there ? We don't need some nebulous Obama promise to "work on" tort reform. We already know Obama's promises don't mean much. We need tort reform (and other cost-saving measures) to be enacted, period. And if Obama arrives at the healthcare reform meeting with a detailed plan already in hand, what is there to be negotiated ? It sounds like that meeting will only be Obama challenging Republicans to back what he has already proposed, and him attempting to make Republicans look obstructionist if they don't. I hope I'm wrong about that, but if history is any judge.......I'm not.

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