Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Friday, January 14, 2005

"A Tort Reform Tantrum"

I am republishing this commentary, because, a) it's critically important and b) it's more timely today than ever.

There is one sure thing you can say about insurance companies, they know how to insure their profits. Just so you have a handle on the sheer volume of money we're talking about, here are some recent numbers from an independent market research firm, Weiss Ratings. Read 'em and weep.

> The nation's HMOs nearly doubled their profits during 2003, earning $10.2 billion, an 86% increase over the $5.5 billion reported in 2002.

> For 2003, the nonprofit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan reported a $1.1 billion increase, which represents one-fifth of the industry's net profit improvement.

> Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, as a group, produced a $5.4 billion profit, which is a $2.1 billion, or 63 percent, increase compared to the $3.3 billion profit recorded in 2002. The nonprofit Blue Shield of California experienced a 220% increase -- or $314.2 million in 2003, up from $142.6 million in 2002.

Yup, America's insurance companies sure are strugglin' ain't they, Slim?

And yet, here we have the Bush administration and its Congressional yes-men forcefully pressing for "tort reform" as the cure all for health insurance increases! Hello? Earth to the GOP! Come in, please. 290-million Amercans want to know what in the name of God you're talking about!

Here's my problem with all this. First, if a doctor is at fault for a medical error, they should be held accountable. Period. And the only way for anyone to be held accountable in our society is to sue them. All other forms of conflict resolution mean nothing to companies unless they carry the weight of a hefty potential settlement. Lawsuits rampant? Maybe. But consider this. Your average citizen has almost no power to fight back against corporate malfeasance. None. Try it sometime. It's a bitter learning experience. One I can personally attest to. If you want to fight a corporation through the courts, the expense is staggering. You can easily spend 20-thousand dollars in a couple of weeks of filing motions and prepping for trial. And your lawyer will want this all upfront. Who can do that? Could you? No? Me, neither. So what you come down to is the realization that the court system, and by extension any form of "justice" is actually something only the rich can hope to have. For the rest of us, we take our lumps and move along, while the corporate counsels laugh all the way to the bank.

Of course, contingency cases are different. Here, you present your complaint to a lawyer who can then decide if they can make a buck on it or not. The truth? These firms generally run through tons of loser cases before they take on the "sure things." They don't bother with the ones that will cost them a lot to investigate or litigate. Meaning that, they only really accept the cases which are so obvious or egrigious that even a trained seal in an Armani suit could get the defendant to settle out of court.

Look again at those insurance company profits. Remember how much they gave to the GOP (and the Dems) last year. Realize how little is done by the AMA to self-police their member doctors. And finally, imagine what you life would be like if someone you loved was hurt or disabled or killed by a physician's error. Clearly, in the case of death, no amount of money would compensate you, but, if the GOP gets it's way, they will simply put a cap on how much your wife or husband's life is worth. For the most part, it'll be far less than many of those insurance company executives pay for their country club membership each year...

Finally, one more thing that sticks in my craw. Almost to a man, anyone who supports med-mal reform will be found trashing the jury system. "Compassionate juries tend to give excessively high awards in the case of infant cerebral-palsy cases" or something of that description. My question is this; If the jury system doesn't work in the case of medical malpractice cases, then how can we trust it to work at all? When a jury finds someone guilty of a heinous murder, do these same people strut and pontificate about the jury's lack of ability? Hell, no. They only malign the jury system when it cuts close to the financial bone...and their corporate benefactors.