Santa Monica, CA — The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights made public today an internal memo attributed to GOP pollster Frank Luntz that outlines the best messages for Republicans to use to sell the American public on “lawsuit abuse reform,” based on extensive focus groups. President Bush is likely to use this language in Illinois tomorrow as he stumps for capping compensation to victims of medical malpractice.
The memo entitled ‘The Language of Lawsuit Absuse [sic] Reform,’ which can be found at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/healthcare/rp/ , argues that those seeking to limit medical liability need to fan the public’s fear about the threat to closure of medical facilities (“Nothing scares a person more than needing emergency medical care and not being able to get it”) and to use ‘crisis’ words that invoke fear of lost services (“crippling our health care system”, “lawsuit epidemic”, “The price of saving lives is just too high”, “too many doctors are leaving and too many hospitals are closing”).
It also urges portraying caps on damages as balanced, fair, and ‘common sense,’ and warns messengers to allay strong public concerns that caps create barriers to access to the courts and devalue human life. The memo warns, “WORDS THAT WORK AGAINST YOU – When innocent people who are injured seek compensation from those who caused their injuries, it’s anything but frivolous. When a preventable careless medical error forces a child into a wheelchair for the rest of his life, it’s anything but frivolous. And when someone close to you suffers due to doctor negligence, their right to a day in court is anything but frivolous. [Box Ends] That’s why you need to start with the argument that innoncent victims deserve their day in court.”
FTCR noted that memo’s best messages are fallacious. For example, families with children who die from malpractice in states with caps on noneconomic damages like California are unable to find attorneys to go to court because the maximum recovery in these cases is $250,000 and attorneys must spent $100,000 or more preparing the case. It is not economically feasible for attorneys to take the case since there are no medical bills or lost wages to collect. Low wage earners are also likely not to find representation. A survey of attorneys in California who handle malpractice cases found they reject the vast majority of the injured patients who seek their help. ( Read more about the problems in California here)
“If you cannot find an attorney, you will not have your day in court, and the caps on jury awarded damages advocated by President Bush will prevent individuals with legitimate cases on behalf of low wage earners, seniors and children from finding attorneys,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, who has worked with hundreds of medical malpractice victims in California. “President Bush should not represent a cap as fair and just when it blocks access to justice for the most vulnerable patients. He should be discussing how to regulate insurance company profiteering and behavior, not allowing those who cause human suffering to escape legal accountability.” Stories of California patients and studies on the impact of insurance regulation in California can be found here.
On the question of access to care and affordability of health care, malpractice costs account for less than 2% of all health care costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Malpractice costs are simply not a driver of health care costs. By contrast, pharmaceutical costs are estimated at between 12% and 16% of health care costs.
“If President Bush wants to create more affordable and accessible health care, he should allow Americans to buy their prescription drugs through bulk purchasing programs as Canadians do and he will reduce health care costs by up to 10%,” said Court. “The President should not be scaring the public into falsely believing they must give up their right to go court out of fear of losing their ability to go to an emergency room.”
For more on FTCR visit http://www.consumerwatchdog.org
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