Compassion Would Stop at $250,000

Companies that write medical malpractice insurance have renewed their efforts to create a crisis and get legislation to limit their losses. In other states, premiums have been jacked up for two reasons: excessive awards for pain and suffering or bad performance by the companies` investments.

By Ralph Moyed

Companies that write medical malpractice insurance have renewed their efforts to create a crisis and get legislation to limit their losses. In other states, premiums have been jacked up for two reasons: excessive awards for pain and suffering or -- as I believe the case to be in Delaware -- bad performance by the companies` investments.

Delaware is one of the last states to feel the big squeeze strategy mainly because medical practice is conducted at high levels here. This would explain the relatively low incidence of malpractice lawsuits in the First State.

The foregoing is bound to be challenged by patients who have suffered unintended complications from improperly performed medical procedures.

To bring down costs, the insurance companies and President Bush have proposed putting a cap of $250,000 on awards for pain and suffering. Victims of the most egregious medical outrages could not collect more than that despite the severity of pain or the number of years of suffering.

I think the companies could save money without a political bailout. They could:

Encourage peer pressure to halt substandard medical practices.
Make sure that patients know the difference between malpractice and unintended consequences of properly conducted procedures.
Back legislation to fine lawyers who ignore the line between malpractice and unintended consequences.
Require patients to read and understand the waivers that are shoved in front of them for signature on the way to surgery. Last time, in my groggy state I thought I was signing up for the hospital`s Super Bowl pool.
The solution favored by the insurance industry, many physicians and President Bush, among other compassionate conservatives, is to cap victims` awards at $250,000, even for the most grave malpractice and the pain they often endure for a lifetime.

It occurred to me how shameless politicians can be when Bush hit the stump calling for this so-called malpractice "reform." That very week the media were reporting the case of the woman who had a double mastectomy before she learned she did not have cancer.
Colleagues were placing blame on pathologists.

So to punish greedy lawyers, as conservative politicians like to describe plaintiffs` attorneys, Bush`s law would deny that poor woman one penny more than $250,000 for gross disfigurement and a lifetime of pain.

The issue is money -- money that the insurer might have to pay when it insures doctors and they commit malpractice, money that company lawyers collect for throwing roadblocks in the way of even reasonable awards to victims.

It would be interesting to compare how much these defense lawyers collect for saving money for insurance companies and doctors. Their earnings are secret.

It is the nature of the system that payments to plaintiffs` lawyers are a matter of public record. So we don`t know who is greediest.
Those same compassionate industries used their influence and money a decade ago to defeat Hillary Clinton`s plan for universal medical coverage for more than 40 million uninsured Americans. The doctors and the companies promised a plan underwritten by the private sector. I`m waiting.

It`s hard to imagine that our warrior president would impose unfair burdens on the victims of malpractice while awarding still more tax breaks to the affluent.

In the meantime, it would be interesting if Bush were to invite the woman who lost her breasts to the White House. He could tell her why she wouldn`t be able to collect a penny more than $250,000 for her cruel disfigurementment.


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