The Less than One Per Cent Solution

The White House has manufactured another “crisis”, requiring immediate (and thereby, preferably, swift and thoughtless) Congressional action. Joining the panacea January 30th Iraqi elections, which will solve all problems in the Middle East, if not the universe, and removing the “security” aspect of social security, the President brings his brand of Texas cruelty to the nation writ large, by proposing at Collinsville, Illinois, a venue purportedly where large medical malpractice verdicts are reached, proposing that all pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases be capped at $250,000.
What the President will not tell you is that the National Practitioner Data Bank maintained by a forgotten part of the President’s own government will show that total medical malpractice payouts to plaintiffs, nationwide, represent something like under 1/2 of 1% of our nation’s (over $1.4 trillion, or around 14% of GDP) spending on health care.
The President will also not tell you that studies (yes, I know my link is from the American Trial Lawyers’ Association) show pretty much no difference in malpractice insurance costs in states with caps such as the President’s proposal to dump on the entire nation, and those with no such limits.
The enemies, as the President sees it, are (1) trial lawyers bringing cases that presumably included those against physicians and hospitals, and (2) their uppity clients who have THE NERVE to think they are entitled to large damage awards, or much of anything, without inheriting it, or arranging for it from their crony friends, rather than as compensation for some egregious action by a doctor or hospital (which, no matter how egregious, will be compensated at no more than $250,000 plus narrowly defined “economic” damages). Oh– as it is, your odds of checking out dead (from something you didn’t check in for) in an American hospital these days are as many as 1 in 200. Surely, capping damages at $250,000 will have no effect whatsoever on hospitals’ and doctors’ levels of care… Like hell…
As usual, juries are o.k. to sentence people to death, but heaven help us if they award too much money. And, of course, we have to assume that state trial and appellate judges willingly allow “frivolous” suits to be sustained… which, of course, it is their job to winnow out.
No matter. This is a campaign based on lies. Lie: Medical malpractice costs are driving higher health care costs. Truth: Payouts to plaintiffs represent less than 1/2 of 1% of what we spend on health care. Even including defense and administrative costs, we are still well under 1% of such costs. Lie: Caps will bring down malpractice premiums and enable doctors to offer more services. Truth: States with caps have virtually no difference in malpractice rates as against states without them. Lie: The nation has a medical malpractice crisis. Truth: Trial lawyers give their campaign contributions overwhelmingly to Democrats, and insurance companies, to Republicans. The President is trying to reward his friends and punish his enemies, and try to cut off funding for his opponents all at the same time.
Dwight Meredith often has interesting things to say on this subject, so we’ll be looking out for it. But let us all not for a minute buy that anything the President says is “a crisis” is anything more than one of his political imperatives. Viewed calmly, and knowing the facts, this one is easy: we should all tell the President to go to hell, on this one.
And we’d appreciate it if he’d stop lying about it (i.e., opening his mouth on the subject… AT ALL.)