Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cruel 'Health Reform'

Anyone who has been paying attention knows the only arrow in the G.O.P. quiver labeled "Republican health care reform proposals" is so-called "tort reform." What that means is barring juries from awarding more than a set maximum amount (most commonly suggested as $250,000) as pain and suffering for anyone injured by a negligent doctor or other medical service provider.

Altogether, such a "reform" might -- maybe -- reduce the average cost of a health insurance policy by one or two percent. Total. And, that assumes the insurance corporations would pass the savings on to their customers rather than their stockholders -- no sure thing.

Every time we hear someone like John Boehner (R-OH) or Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rant about capping malpractice awards, we remember a news item we saw many, many years ago. It was reported that an Army doctor in the Seattle area so badly botched the circumcision of a baby boy that a team of specialists called in as consultants concluded the only hope for the child was over the ensuing twenty years to change his sex to female.

The jury heard all the evidence, found the doctor had been grossly negligent, and awarded $5 million. Even back then, it seemed like a paltry sum to us. But it turned out, the five million wasn't even enough to cover the cost of the multiple operations for changing the baby's sex -- much less anything for pain and suffering.

The point is, every medical malpractice case is different. Every doctor's negligent act is different. The costs and consequences are different. The pain and emotional distress negligent doctors cause will affect every victim in different ways. How can any thinking, sentient being vote for a law that would, without regard to any individualized facts of future cases, arbitrarily deprive every future jury of its obligation to render 'complete justice' in awarding necessary and reasonable damages?

Or, to bring it home, how would you feel if a doctor "accidentally" lopped off your penis (or that of your son, brother, or other loved one) only to learn that, thanks to right-wing Republicans and trembling Blue Dog Democrats, the jury was prohibited from awarding sufficient damages to cover the loss?

That's not reform we can can believe in, either of the medical system or of the legal system. It's simple cruelty.

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