Andrea Batista Schlesinger
The Wall Street Journal and what is “not nothing”
I read the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page every morning for the same reason I visit the Manhattan Institute's Web site: motivation by irritation.
And it happens that both shops are in lockstep on one of the conservative right's most important victories: tort reform.
What's that? Well, in short, it's the conservative right's term for eliminating any means by which regular people can hold powerful interests accountable. How so? Well, for starters, by capping the damages that regular people can receive from lawsuits for malpractice or negligence, which makes it nearly impossible for them to attract adequate legal representation, or by limiting people's ability to sue in the first place. In their view, all of these gosh-darn lawsuits for malpractice are driving up insurance rates (the insurance industry loves this argument, since they can continue raking in the dough while also pleading poverty to raise rates).
So I read with glee this week's WSJ editorial, "Mitt's Non-Miracle," that criticized the Massachusetts health care program recently voted in and signed by the governor for being enacted, in part, to address the drain on state resources created by the reliance of the uninsured on free government health care.
They wrote: "in 2001 the nationwide cost of such uncompensated treatment was $34.5 billion, or 2.8% of all health spending. That's not nothing, but neither has it been the major cost driver for private insurance that the Governor claims it is."
Interesting. Like with many terms used by the right wing whose meanings are somewhat fluid (victory, overspending, tax relief), so too is the phrase "not nothing." You see, a 2004 study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that:
- Malpractice costs amounted to an estimated $24 billion in 2002, which is less than 2% of overall health care spending
- Capping damages would lower health care costs by only about .4 percent to .5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small
So, $34.5 billion is not a sufficient incentive to figure out how to proactively get people health insurance, but $24 billion is a sufficient incentive to dismantle our entire system of civil justice?
Consider me motivated!