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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Insurance Reforms

At last count there were more insurance consumers by far in Connecticut than insurance companies and their executives, but you

wouldn’t know it by examining the political behavior of the state’s two Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman and Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson.

As legislative heel-clickers for the giant insurance lobby, many of which companies are headquartered in the Hartford area, they have few competitors. Take Nancy Johnson whose repeated concern for children’s well­being has produced much rhetoric. These days she is lobbying her Congressional colleagues to make it even more difficult for children (and adults) who are horribly maimed by reckless or incompetent doctors to recover adequate compensation and other justice in court.

Before pushing for federal regulation of Connecticut courts and juries, and other state courts as well, she should consult with physicians who have had to take care of these children. A little boy in the hospital for a tonsillectomy has the tube placed recklessly down his throat, choking off the oxygen and producing brain damage. Or the case of the four year old, done in by a “neurosurgeon”, who had faked his credentials, may help to counterbalance the urgings of her husband and brother-in-law who are both physicians.

Before she continues on her callous path in Congress, she may wish to consult with Connecticut’s Supreme Court justices to hear their arguments against federal codification restricting what state judges and juries can decide — the only people who actually hear, see and evaluate the evidence.

In addition, Nancy Johnson should read the Harvard School of Public Health classic study of medical malpractice which concluded that there are too few claims by victims, not too many. Based on this report, the doctors, who conducted this study, estimated that 80,000 Americans die in hospitals every year from serious malpractice. Tens of thousands more die or are injured by a minority of bad doctors and clinics in their offices or by systemic misprescription of drugs.

One of the Harvard study’s researchers, Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, testified before the House of Representatives last fall that “There’s a lot of substandard care in hospitals in the United States.” He said that medical malpractice costs the nation an estimated $60 billion a year — a sum comparable to the entire state budget of New York State.

All the fatalities combined from street crime, motor vehicle crashes and fires do not equal the number of deaths from serious malpractice just in hospitals.

Cumulative evidence by leading physicians does not budge Nancy Johnson. While rejecting caps on insurance premiums, insurance executives’ megamillion dollar pay packages, or insurance company profits, she is determined to cap what judges, juries and appellate courts believe to be adequate compensation for very serious malpractice injuries.

Whatever insurance executives pay themselves is fine with her, but what these vulnerable and innocent victims manage to get from a rigorously referred judicial process is to be controlled by politicians in Washington, greased by political campaign money from insurance, medical and drug firms.

Senators Dodd and Lieberman favor many of Rep. Johnson’s restrictions. But they are carrying other water for the wrongdoer’s lobby. Both favor the start of federal regulation of state courts in the area of liability for producing dangerous or defective products such as drugs and aircraft.

Their legislation (S. 687) says if these products meet obsolete and weak standards of the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, or are approved mistakenly by these two agencies, no punitive damages for human casualties could be obtained in courts no matter how willful and reckless the defendant was acting. Also if the injured parties reject a settlement offer and later receive less in court, they have to reduce their verdict by the proceeds from their private insurance or government disability programs.

Sounds cruel! That’s just for starters. There are other anti-injured peoples provisions planned by the Senator’s insurance mentors that stack the deck in favor of the General Motors, the DuPonts and the Pfizers when their products destroy or injure.

Senator Dodd, who takes for granted that Connecticut voters have elected him for life, is now fronting for another segment of the wrongdoers’ lobby — the giant accounting firms who were part of the Savings and Loan debacle.

He wants to limit their liability in case they misbehave and break their public trust in the future. In the midst of a corporate crime wave that has cost taxpayers half a trillion dollars, Senator Dodd wants to weaken existing laws, not strengthen them. Some view of corporate law and order!

It is not unimportant to observe that these three insurance legislators are from both major Parties. Tweedledee and Tweedledum are thriving on Capitol Hill. It is time for a new politics of democracy and new political parties to carry out the mission.