The Lie of Tort Reform

The “Health Care Summit” reminded me that there are some disturbing rumors that President Obama is open to incorporating GOP “ideas” on “Tort Reform”. This would be a tremendous mistake for several reasons.

First, Tort Reform has nothing to do with health care costs. It is solely a give away to the insurance industry. In States that have passed caps and other types of “Tort Reform”, the costs of delivering medical care, the costs of private medical insurance and the costs of medical malpractice insurance is the same, or more, as those States which have not passed Tort Reform. Study after study in the past 2 decades have consistently shown that medical malpractice lawsuits contribute less than 1/10 of 1% (.01) of health care costs. Some people claim that the hidden costs of lawsuits include the practice of “defensive medicine”, but again, the data proves otherwise. Most medical tests deemed to be unnecessary are ordered by doctors and hospitals seeking to up their fees and cover costs of purchasing new (and often unnecessary or duplicative) equipment. A hospital decides to order a new MRI machine and hire staff [even though a competitor down the street already has one], and all of a sudden the number of requests for MRIs increases.

The number of medical malpractice lawsuits has steadily declined in the past 25 years. The number of cases won by plaintiffs has decreased, and the average amount of money verdicts has decreased during the same time period. So why has the cost of medical insurance premiums and medical malpractice insurance increased exponentially? The only economic factor shown to correlate with increases in the costs of insurance premiums is the stock market. In other words, insurance companies raise premiums depending on how their investments in the stock market fare. Then, of course, there are the 28% administrative costs, including lobbyists to make sure that States don’t audit their books.

Not one insurance company, in any state, has ever opened its books to correlate the premiums charged with the actual cost of underwriting. The health care crisis is in large measure due to the abuses of private insurance companies. The solution to the crisis is not to take away the legal rights of Americans to have their day in court, and protect corporations, which is what Tort Reform is. Whenever I ask people, even conservatives, if they think the government should be able to change any verdict from any jury without hearing or reviewing a single piece of evidence, they say “absolutely not”. That is exactly what happens with damage caps (tort reform).

Even though it is widely recognized that the abuses private health insurance corporations have created the heath care crisis, the President still refuses to consider a single payer system. A single payer system would immediately reduce administrative costs, which is the single greatest contributor to escalating costs. But another more important effect of a single payer system would be to remove the corrupting influence of insurance industry money on politics. If you happen to have seen the health summit on television, imagine a dollar sum above the heads of each and every one of those Congressmen talking, representing how much money they took from the insurance industry to get elected… Max Baucus ($35 million), Joe Lieberman ($12 million), etc.

Tort reform will change nothing regarding the costs of health care. It is another give away, taking away all our rights. What we really need is campaign finance reform. That would solve more than just the Health Care Crisis.

6 Responses to The Lie of Tort Reform

  1. doctorblue says:

    Having researched Tort Reform, I agree with your views. Why do you think it’s so difficult for many Americans to grasp the reality that medical malpractice awards do not increase health care costs? Perhaps what’s missing is a catchy sound bite phrase to get the message across — one analogous to the infamous “Keep your government hands off of my ______.” It’s amusing that in other matters, Americans tend to oppose government intervention.

    That said, I find it disconcerting that Tort Reform has become synonymous with reducing medical malpractice awards. Medical Malpractice Tort Reform is needed to make it feasible to sue medical insurers and their board of directors, either vicariously or directly, for their providers’ misdeeds and for the effects the insurers have on the decisions providers make about patient care.

  2. Steve Thomas says:

    Let me also say, that I admire much of the work that you do, and that those malpractice cases you have won (wrongful death) – there was obvious malpractice and those doctors deserved to suffer. However, don’t you think the system needs to become more efficient, and that some patient should not have the ability to bring a junk lawsuit and ruin the good doctor’s life for 1-2 years?

  3. Chuck Welch says:

    Hey, Geoff…
    I saw your presentation last night at the Southfield library. It was I who replied about the benefit of the doubt when you called me sir. Having spent a couple years in a nuclear missile unit in Germany, I expect you’ve heard the one word reply: ‘Don’tcallmesir,Iworkforaliving!’ from MSG Sarver, so I thought I’d go with something else…

    You seemed to be in a hurry, so I didn’t get the chance to express my condolences on the death of your brother. I’ve lost a brother myself, as well as my father, wife and some long time friends, and my conclusion is that it’s not a good way to find out how important that person was in your life…

    You were well into your presentation before you got to ‘Inherit the Wind.’ It seemed by then that you didn’t need my input, but it was Dayton, TN in 1925. I remembered it from Bartlemans Poli Sci class at Only Chance College. Also, I know waaay too much history for someone who doesn’t teach it. I read a lot, usually several books at once. I picked up a book, ‘Attorney for the Damned,’ while I was at the VA hospital. It’s an old compendium of closing arguments by Darrow, as you probably know. (It’s not as if the ink falls off the pages with age.) Good stuff…

    I was there with my friend, Nick Reyna, who I told about your appearance. He was the attorney who handed you a business card, that he had to get from me, with all his phone numbers on the back. No prob, I know the important ones. He has dibs on the Darrow book…

    I graduated from Ferndale H.S. in 1971, and as a blue collar white male, I should probably be a cryptobigot teabagging neocon…
    Except I have an IQ that’s higher than room temperature, and I agree with everything you said…

    I have no clue if you even read this stuff yourself, but if you ever walk into a bar that I’m in, I’ve got your back if need be, ans the first rounds on me!

  4. Patricia Jankowski says:

    It’s a given that insurance companies would favor tort reform because trying to assure the quality of medical care gets in the way of their financial agendas.

    It’s unfortunate but true that right now, the litigation process is one of the main quality assurance components in health care. Lawsuits that set precedents are studied and used by risk managers all the time to prevent bad things from happening twice. If, as a society, we had the honor and dignity to do things right the first time, this would not be the case, but….what can I say.

    It’s so easy to blurt out a cliché like, “Those darn lawyers are the ones responsible for how expensive health care is nowadays.” But it’s being naive, like a two-year-old playing on the freeway.

    For many years now, that’s exactly how we’ve been when it comes to our health care system…naive, ignorant, careless, irresponsible, unrealistic, paranoid, and….greedy.

    Let’s hope the tide is turning and thanks for watching out for us, Mr. Fieger. The key to health care reform is being realistic and fair, and doing what works…for everyone, not just a few…not taking away people’s most important and basic rights.

  5. Andrew pouget says:

    It’s amazing how money talks in Washington. Billions (with a “B”) of dollars are spent by giant, faceless corporations just to tell our elected officials how to vote. It makes one question how much democratic elections matter when whoever is elected will be showered with millions of dollars to vote a certain way.

    Not to mention that some corporations buy elections by donating so much advertisement time that they single-handedly change the public’s opinion about issues.

    And the U.S. supreme court is happy to let this mockery continue by calling corporations “citizens” and calling donations “free speech.” I wonder if the founding fathers had individual congressmen receiving tens of millions of dollars from corporations in mind when they discussed the freedom of speech???

  6. Bob Poris says:

    It is funny and tragic that such false claims have such long and strong legs for such a long time. How much money has been spent spreading false information?
    Whose money is it and do all those contribiting know it is false?
    If the insurance industry and the doctors have so much money to spare, they might be overpaid. If there is a way to compensate real vicitms of real abuses fairly and to punish those making false claims, I am all for it. Perhaps the medical profession coiuld do a better hob of getting rid of the bad doctors and set up realistic methods to adjudicate abuses. Most doctors are careful and competent. Weed out the incompetents and compensate fairly actual victims. that should be the goal and where the mioney should be spent.

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