We were certainly happy to see some great pieces this week attacking the truly nasty efforts by Republicans who want to use injured patients as their health insurance reform "bargaining chip." There's a great blog from Andrew Cohen (Murrow Award-winning journalist and one of the nation's leading legal analysts and commentators) in The Atlantic Online and - pinch me now - The Economist, which particularly objects to so-called "tort reform" when there's no safety net for people like here in the U.S., to wit, "A system where doctors are rich, patients have no guarantees, and only patients have to make sacrifices is unacceptable."
But who can deliver a more poignant message than those who are among the hundreds of thousands actually killed or injured each year due to medical negligence, those who have been through the legal system and some of whom were victimized twice due to "tort reform" in their state. (Yes, most states already have already enacted some type of "tort reform" cruelty.)
They sent a letter to President Obama today, as well as to the Congressional leadership. Here's some of what they said:
As survivors of medical negligence and as patient safety advocates, we are writing to you again about the issue of medical malpractice and so-called "tort reform." Many of us have family members who were lost or severely injured as a result of medical negligence. While the insurance and medical lobbies continue to attack us, it has been extremely heartening to know that, so far, you have stood strongly on our behalf, and on behalf of all patients.
However, we are extremely concerned that this issue will again be raised as part of the bipartisan health care summit that you announced for February 25. We urge you to please keep additional "tort reforms" out of the health insurance reform bill, beyond what the House and Senate have already agreed to. This would include proposals like "caps" on compensation for families who need these funds to survive; one-sided use of clinical guidelines as a means of removing accountability for providers (we believe patient safety will suffer from such a "one size fits all" approach especially given conflicts of interest by those who would develop these guidelines); systems that involuntarily remove cases from the jury system; and any other proposal that is onerous, unfair to patients and prevents legitimate cases from going forward.
Many of us have the misfortune of living in states with "caps" and other laws that make it difficult or impossible to have cases heard before judges and juries. We have heard some commentators say lately that there is "no downside" to tort reform. They need to spend a day in our shoes.
These laws have had terrible consequences for us, for injured patients who have been shut out of courts altogether, and for patient safety, in general. They have also burdened taxpayers since some of us have had to turn to taxpayer-funded health and disability programs to provide for our injured family-member. It would be a tragic mistake to impose such "tort reform" laws on the rest of the country. Please remember:
- The extent of medical errors is a real crisis; hospitals are unsafe and the doctor discipline system is a national disgrace.
- Proposals that reduce the accountability of unsafe hospitals and incompetent doctors will lead to more errors and system costs.
- Liability limits shift costs of caring for malpractice victims from perpetrators of malpractice to state Medicaid systems and taxpayers.
- Even if you imposed the most severe limits on patients' rights, savings would total at most only one-half of one percent of total health care costs.
Provision of medical care should never be accomplished by taking away the right to trial by jury for someone who was injured through no fault of their own, or reducing the accountability of anyone who commits wrongdoing. Medical malpractice has taken a huge toll on all of our lives, as it has on the hundreds of thousands killed or injured each year due to preventable medical errors. Please continue to explore ways to improve patient safety and reduce unnecessary deaths, not diminish accountability for wrongdoers, limit our right to have cases heard before judges and juries, and burden taxpayers with the bill.
Go to the letter for a full description of the signers and their stories.