Bush Should Blame Insurers, Not Medical Malpractice Victims

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Insurance Reform Is Answer to Malpractice Crisis

Santa Monica, CA — To reduce the malpractice premiums physicians pay, President Bush should limit profiteering by malpractice insurers, not restrict legal recovery by innocent victims, the Foundation For Taxpayer and Consumer and Rights (FTCR) said today.

The non-profit consumer group called upon Bush and Congress to explore creating a national non-profit medical malpractice insurance plan similar to national flood insurance as well as taking steps to prevent medical negligence. This includes opening up to public review the taxpayer-funded National Practitioners Databank — which informs state medical boards about negligent doctors.

In addition, FTCR also called on insurance commissioners around the nation to develop strong regulatory systems, such as the one enacted by California voters in 1988 through insurance reform Proposition 103. In a report released today, FTCR showed that Prop 103‘s regulatory system, not caps on victims’ recovery in California, lowered malpractice insurance premiums in the state.

The report corrects five dangerous myths about the legal limitations imposed on injured patients in California — restrictions President Bush is recommending for the nation. It includes revealing statements from former California Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the California restrictions but has since criticized them; California’s Congressional delegation; and the malpractice defense bar.

“Bush’s plan is the equivalent of lowering auto insurance premiums by stopping lawsuits against drunk drivers rather than by preventing drunk driving,” said Jamie Court, executive director of FTCR, who has worked with hundreds of medical negligence victims in California. “Blaming innocent victims, not insurers, for skyrocketing premiums will only lead to more recklessness in medicine. California’s experience shows that only strong insurance regulation lowers premiums insurers charge. Bush’s proposals do not even have the guarantee of any rate rollback.”

The five myths addressed by FTCR’s report are:

Myth#1: Legal restrictions on victims lowered California doctors’ malpractice premiums.

Facts: Californians enacted the strongest insurance rate regulation in the nation in 1998 through insurance reform Proposition 103, a ballot initiative passed by the voters and authored by FTCR president Harvey Rosenfield. This law resulted in rate freeze, a rate rollback, and stringent regulation that reduced premiums in all lines of insurance — including medical malpractice.

Myth #2: Injured patients are still able to hold wrongdoers legally accountable because only “non-economic” damages are capped — compensation other than that which can be measured by wage loss, medical bills, or other tangible economic measures.

Facts: Only those patients with large wage loss or medical bills are typically able to find attorneys in California. Most medical malpractice victims cannot. For example, injured patients who, as a result of medical negligence, lose their fertility or are severely disfigured typically cannot prove “economic” damage. Similarly, the death of a child or senior citizen typically does not result in “economic” damage because there is no basis for wage loss or measuring medical bills. In these types of California cases, there is typically no legal accountability for wrongdoers

Myth #3: A one-size-fits-all cap on compensation is fair to patients who can receive “unlimited” economic damages.

Facts: Economic damages cannot always be anticipated. California juries are not informed of the cap on non-economic damages, so they are often not careful about apportioning economic damages.

Myth #4: Malpractice damage caps are about doctors vs. lawyers, not patients vs. reckless HMOs and managed care corporations.

Fact: California’s managed care corporations have profited most from limited liability in the state and their abuses have proliferated.

Myth #5: Defensive medicine is always bad, significantly drives up the costs of medicine and results from doctors facing full legal accountability.

Fact: Defensive medicine is often simply good cautious medicine, which is particularly needed in the managed care age.

Court, who testified before Congress in July against similar proposed restrictions, noted, “President Bush‘s plan is nothing more than political payback to a medical-insurance complex that gave his party control of the federal government and wants to remove its accountability to the public.”

Court is also the co-author of Making A Killing: HMOs and The Threat To Your Health (Common Courage Press) which Publisher’s Weekly called, “Must reading for anyone concerned with the health of U.S. medical care system.”


Consumer Watchdog
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