A bipartisan proposal: Tort reform and the public option

Finding real candor from a pol at a health care town hall meeting is quite rare so here’s three cheers for former DNC chair and ex-Vermont governor Howard Dean for giving this honest answer as to why there is no tort reform in Democratic Party health care insurance reform proposals:

“This is the answer from a doctor and a politician,” said Dean. “Here is why tort reform is not in the bill. When you go to pass a really enormous bill like that the more stuff you put in, the more enemies you make, right? And the reason why tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth. Now, that’s the truth.”

Basically, what Dean is saying is the trial lawyers lobby has the Democratic Party firmly tucked away in its back pocket.

You can see Dean’s response here:

The questioner, probably nervous, said $200 million but meant $200 billion. The truth is, between $100 billion and $200 billion over 10 years could be saved from health expenses with tort reform. Premiums could also be reduced.

Dean is among those Democrats who insist that a public option be included in ObamaCare. Here’s a proposal that unfortunately both sides won’t take: How about including a public option and serious tort reform in a health care reform bill?

President Obama, who promised to be a great negotiator but has mostly delegated hard choices to Congress, could push this. It would be a real compromise that reached out to both sides. The private insurance industry deserves little sympathy. It rewards employees who can terminate coverage when it gets serious … and expensive. And trial lawyers have caused malpractice insurance to reach ridiculous heights.

I don’t expect this to happen, but if it did, I’d re-evaluate my position with the majority in this new poll.


This entry was posted in The Political Surf. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A bipartisan proposal: Tort reform and the public option

  1. Mike Trujillo says:

    One correction to what you said: the trial lawyers’ lobby has BOTH the Republican and Democratic parties firmly tuckeds away in its back pocket.

    Public option and tort reform would be good. Something for everyone.

  2. Charles Trentelman says:

    are you so certain is it just the Democrats the trial lawyers have tucked away?

    Compared to the way other nations handle, and pay for, health care, the US spends about $1 trillion a year more than it needs to. That trillion goes to a lot of very expensive doctors, lawyers, health insurance executives and, yes, politicians of both parties. If you seriously expect that any of those folk, of either stripe, will give up $1 trillion without a very well funded fight, you’re delusional.

    Which is why the public option will fail. It will only help sick people, and who gives a rat’s patoot about them when there’s money to be made?

  3. laytonian says:

    Usually, with this comes up, someone mentions “hot coffee” and MacDonalds as an example of the kind of “frivolous” lawsuit that physicians face. But what most people believe, is not what actually happened. It makes a nice urban legend hoax email, though.

    The truth about the world’s most famous “frivolous” lawsuit:
    Stella Liebeck was sitting in the passenger seat of a NONmoving vehicle, when she opened the cup of coffee that MacDonald’s had passed through the drive-up as “ready to drink”. She received third-degree burns from near-boiling coffee. Why did the jury initially make the award so large? Because MacDonald’s had been warned, in the past, about serving too-hot coffee.
    Stella did NOT end up with the millions of dollars that many people believe she did. All she ever asked for, was a much-smaller, reasonable sum.


    NOW….about that tort reform. I’m all for it AS LONG AS anyone injured through a hospital or physician’s mistake can get ALL of their expenses paid, as well as future health care costs, paid for by the injuring party.

    It’s like these pool drains. John Edwards (yes, I detest him) DID get millions from a lawsuit….because a little girl’s insides were sucked out of her body when she sat down in a child’s pool.
    YET….that didn’t mean that anyone took action about unsafe pool drains until other children were killed and/or injured. Just last week, a little girl’s arm was sucked into a pool drain and luckily, her head remained above water while workers jackhammered the pool apart.

    So…..what’s the answer? Do we let business exist in the Wild Wild West of Milton Friedman, or should they be as responsible as the right wing believes individuals should be?

    What’s the true cost to health care, of liability insurance and ACTUAL lawsuits?

    One problem is that the elderly have been frightened to death by the fear-mongers who tell them that healthcare reform will be done by reduced Medicare….YET, the VERY SAME PEOPLE who are scaring the elderly, are the ones complaining about redundant tests, cost of liability insurance, and lawsuits.

    The old guy who wrote in last week, accusing Obama of being a “pretend President”? He’s depending on Medicare, but doesn’t want it to be cut. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS, because it’s running out of money “as is”…..

    And healthcare reform will NOT be solely paid for by tort reform. Look at the studies of the states that have capped liability awards: insurance rates have still gone up, due to companies wanting more income because their *investments* went down.

    …..and, will someone define “frivolous”, please? Is it frivolous when YOU sue, or only if I sued?

  4. Preston says:

    Common-sense thinking, Doug. But as you say, the Dems are in the pockets of the trial lawyers. Not only that, reducing costs is not an honest goal of theirs. If it were they’d HAVE to include tort reform. What we may see is the federal provider option where the feds have limited liability and the public providers have unlimited liability, which will kill the public providers off that much faster.

  5. Al says:

    I keep asking this question in the other forums every time this issue comes up, and everybody making the “tort reform is the answer” argument keeps ignoring it: What fraction of national health care expenditures comes from medical liability?

    Studies estimate it at between 0.5% and 2%. It’s a tiny, miniscule, fraction of a drop in the bucket, which explains more substantively why it’s not in the current bill. Howard Dean has a lot of opinions, and I largely agree with him. Did democrats leave liability reform out because they’re in the pocket of trial lawyers? Maybe, and I wouldn’t object to liability reform anyway, so long as someone can define what “frivolous” actually means and ensure that victims of genuine medical malfeasance are not barred from seeking redress. But does it bother me that it’s not in the current bill? Not a bit, because it’s not a significant contributor to costs in all but a very small number of cases. That’s an actual fact-based position.

  6. laytonian says:

    Al says “What fraction of national health care expenditures comes from medical liability? Studies estimate it at between 0.5% and 2%”

    “According to the actuarial consulting firm Towers Perrin, medical malpractice tort costs were $30.4 billion in 2007…..[out of] more than a $2 trillion health care system. That puts litigation costs and malpractice insurance at 1 to 1.5 percent of total medical costs. That’s a rounding error. Liability isn’t even the tail on the cost dog. It’s the hair on the end of the tail. ”
    (NY Times, 31 Aug 2009)

    If you read the ENTIRE article, you learn about caps on settlements, how it’s so costly to bring a lawsuit that “frivolous” doesn’t even enter into the equation.

    There’s an associated point that’s never considered: are doctors REALLY performing DEFENSIVE MEDICINE….OR, are they ordering all those tests because, under our “pay for performance” system, they profit from ordering them?

  7. jasonthe says:

    The problem with having a serious discussion about tort reform is really a simple result of it not being a serious solution to any obstacles to affordable health insurance. Sure it’s a catchy talking point, and conservatives have owned it for years, but why has no one taken it seriously? Well, 38 states have… to no change. In addition, via Bloomberg News, costs stemming from malpractice suits are pretty marginal when overall expenses in our current system are considered: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=az9qxQZNmf0o

    “The figures were taken from a March 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that estimated the direct cost of medical malpractice was 2 percent of the nation’s health-care spending and said defensive medical practices accounted for 5 percent to 9 percent of the overall expense.

    A 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office also pegged medical malpractice costs at 2 percent of U.S. health spending and “even significant reductions” would do little to reduce the growth of health-care expenses.

    [...] annual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion, in a 2005 study. Insurer WellPoint Inc. said last month that liability wasn’t driving premiums.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>