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A Radical Healthcare Solution

Having read a lifetime of articles from the Los Angeles Times, I’ve learned not to expect veracity with my morning coffee. Except for Michael Ramirez and the Obituaries, the content often reads like dispatches from Baghdad Bob.

One such article this week comes from financial reporter Michael Hiltzik and what he calls State Senator Sheila Kuehl’s (D-Santa Monica) Radical Healthcare Solution. But beyond the title, there’s nothing radical about Kuehl’s scheme to increase taxes for America’s businesses and employees to subsidize the healthcare of non-working Americans. Predictably, Hiltzik blames business leaders’ “economic self-interest” for our healthcare crisis while ignoring the multi-billion dollar malpractice shakedown by trial lawyers – the financial engine of the Democratic Party.

Hiltzik’s “greedy employer” rationale doesn’t hold water, for America’s success comes not from lawyers but from entrepreneurs and employees who provide goods and services. As malpractice claims rise, insurers pass costs on to employers who hire the people needed to make their businesses successful. Entrepreneurs are leaving California today not because owners are greedy, but to avoid the high insurance costs and taxes that strangle them. And like the teacher unions she serves, Senator Kuehl hopes Californians are willing to throw more money at problems she refuses to fix.

The Real Problem

The American Medical Association provides comprehensive information on the punitive costs of medical malpractice insurance. As much as lawsuits cost Americans, most people disabled by actual malpractice are not compensated while 80 percent of all complaints are made against doctors who made no errors whatsoever. As a result, almost three-quarters of all premiums go to administrative costs. And while a tiny fraction of doctors and hospitals have failed to provide adequate care, the 1.5 percent of legitimate claims doesn’t justify the billions of dollars spent on the costs of insurance or defensive medicine.

Here’s how malpractice works in California today: Patient Smith visits Doctor Jones to treat a hangnail. For some reason, Smith complains. She calls “Louie the lawyer” who offers to settle the complaint in much the same way a street hustler promises the store owner protection from vandalism after midnight. To meet Louie’s demands, Jones’ insurer pays $30,000 or more in healthcare premiums to settle the case. Louie takes his piece and invests our squandered premiums to reelect democrats who won’t write laws to end this extortion.

If Dr. Jones refuses to settle and evidence at the trial clears him of malpractice, the following can be a critical part of Louie’s closing argument:

Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that my client’s hangnail isn’t worth a million dollars. She’s made a dozen false claims in the past and she’s not a nice person. But this case is about bad doctors and not me or my client. I ask you to render a verdict for my client – to send a message to this doctor and others that reckless treatment will not be tolerated by you or anyone else…

To a panel of “OJ jurors” this can be a compelling argument. If the jury awards a dollar, the plaintiff’s attorney can force the insurer to pay for his legal costs – fees that can be much more than the verdict itself. And that’s if Dr. Jones loses. To win, Dr. Jones and his insurer will waste an average of $90,000 on other lawyers.

If lawmakers are serious about affordable healthcare, they must legislate an end to this criminal enterprise. Affordable healthcare begins where hot coffee lawsuits end.

A Radical Healthcare Solution

If the LA Times is really interested in radical ideas I offer this: Give individuals the option to waive their right to sue.

We can’t do it now, for Californians are assumed to be too incompetent to make this kind of decision. But if passengers can buy travel insurance before boarding commercial jets, why can’t patients buy riders to cover malpractice? In this way, individuals can decide whether to include trial lawyers in their healthcare policy or not. Like any private company, market forces would drive patients to other facilities. And like LA restaurants, an A-through-F grade can be assigned to failing hospitals and doctors.

It’s no secret that today’s medical practitioners are influenced by the threat of lawsuits. To avoid liability, doctors often subject patients to unnecessary testing and treatments at the expense of time and their patients’ best interests. For individual subscribers who waive their right to sue, physicians could focus on their patients – not attorneys. And if 10,000 subscribers joined a medical group that provided care without medical liability concerns, the group could invest in things like new offices, better care, equipment, training, improved staffing of nurses and doctors, and competitive costs. There’s nothing like profitability to reverse the closure of hospitals and clinics.

This idea isn’t for everyone. Some unethical lawyers would have to get real jobs and democrats would have to rely more on the Chinese and other foreigners to fund their campaigns. Patients who want lawyers in their medical plans can always include them.

So there you have it – two radical ideas that will make healthcare better and cheaper for all Americans. Like Hiltzik writes, perfection is elusive in medicine. As long as trial lawyers profit from that impossible standard, Californians will continue to suffer. Now that’s something Hiltzik can write about!

Comments

Comment from lindsey
Time October 9, 2005 at 10:34 pm

You should read this article from Slate magazine about the malpractice system in Sweden. It’s a no-fault system that completely avoids courts, lawyers, etc. I haven’t heard anything negative about it, and think both patients and doctors would be much happier with this system.

Comment from ex-Hollywood Liberal
Time October 10, 2005 at 6:06 am

I read it - thanks Lindsey. It sounds a little like arbitration. Any system that is inquisitorial rather that adversarial is cheaper for doctors and patients.

When I see a doctor I want their full attention and honesty. What I don’t want is for doctors to treat me as though I’m looking for reasons to sue them. I know how damaging trial lawyers are to law enforcement and, like medicine, police officers who are preoccupied by litlgation don’t suffer nearly as much as the public that relies on competent and motivated officers.

But for those who ask whether socialized medicine is preferable, all anyone needs to do is ask someone from Eastern Europe or Canada.

My current hospital is one of America’s best, but the best hospital I’ve visited in DECADES was Bangkok Hospital in Phuket, Thailand two years ago where they have US-trained doctors, advanced medical equipment, incredible staffing and low prices. If they can do it there, why can’t we do it here? And if we can’t because of income scales, maybe outsourced medical care should become a prominent part of our medical care system.

Thanks again…

CB

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