DMI Blog

Kia Franklin

Health Care and Tort Reform in Election ‘08

The running list of substantive topics that have not been adequately covered during this election period continues to grow, and alongside this list the American public grows tired of mainstream media attention to Clinton’s feminine tears, Obama’s blackness, Edwards’ evil profession (representing people victimized by someone else’s neglect is such a sinister calling, they’d like us to think), etc., blah, blah. Wanting to do more than add “access to justice” to the growing list of untouched yet important topics that are overshadowed by the media madness, last week we launched a discussion about how the candidates can improve the legal system so that it works for regular Americans and not just corporations (here).

But it's not exactly that the candidates aren't talking about where they stand on issues affecting Americans' access to the courts; it's that the way they talk about it reveals that progressives aren't leading this discussion or enriching it with our values. Let's use as a case in point the candidates’ views about health care and patients’ rights. Healthcare in the headlines this week looks like this:

UI Study finds doctors fail to report errors
Man says NY hospital forced rectal exam
Quaid's recall twins' drug overdose
Should I Sue My Doctor?

So, clearly, for regular American people, covered and not covered by health insurance plans, it would be great to hear what the candidates have to say about improving the health care system so that patients can rightfully feel safe and secure.

According to our report:

The 1.5 million medication errors that occur every year add $3.5 billion in medical costs to the medical system, and between $17 billion and $29 billion per year in total costs to society—including medical expenses, lost income, lost household productivity, and physical disability.(4) This is too costly to the economy, to Americans’ health and well-being, and to the public’s confidence in our health care system.

Yet instead of focusing on restoring this confidence, and despite evidence that malpractice lawsuits are at best weakly linked to malpractice insurance rates, the debate among the candidates is focused on whether they support tort "reform" measures that reduce an injured person's right to sue a negligent doctor. Call me crazy, but I don't find much comfort in knowing that if I walk in for a routine procedure and am wheeled out with severe injuries that could have been prevented, or if I feel I have been assaulted or otherwise harmed during medical treatment, I won't be able to pursue justice on my own behalf.

Additionally, this question of a candidate's support for tort "reform" is grounded in the (now oft-debunked) assumption that such "reforms" will actually improve our healthcare system rather than further weaken what few protections we have.

Instead of asking the candidates whether they support tort "reform," we'd be better off asking how they will improve our experiences as patients in the health care system. Will they address the safety concern, or will they just take away the only safety net we do have--the civil justice system--after we're injured?

Progressives need to start demanding that the candidates move beyond their talking points about trial lawyers and frivolous lawsuits and onto factual information and practical policies to improve our health care system and our experiences in it as patients. Progressives inside and outside of the medical community must get informed about the real link between a strong civil justice system and patients' satisfaction with the health care system.

Follow this link for an article that, though heavy in tort "reform" rhetoric, does provide a helpful layout of the candidates' positions. Then go read Election '08: A Pro Civil Justice Presidential Platform to see why you should think again if you think a candidate who supports tort "reform" has your health and well-being in mind.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:05 AM, Jan 17, 2008 in Civil Justice | Election 2008 | Health Care
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