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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > AMA and Med Mal

There are many humane, compassion physicians in this country the American Medical Association and its state affiliates are giving bad name. Behaving like a large mob out of control, the AMA is in a frenzy to get the U.S. Senate to shove it to Americans victimized by bad doctors. No matter how serious the human damage–total disability, incontinence, infertility–or the pain and suffering, the AMA wants a Congressional cap on such damages at $250,000 lifetime.

Never mind that state judges and jurors believe otherwise in cases of gross injury due to the reckless, incompetent or sometimes criminal behavior of bad doctors. Should a court award $1 million or $2 million for the pain and suffering lifetime of a patient whose wrong foot or wrong breast was amputated (two recent cases), the AMA says too bad. It wants a federal law to cut it down to $250,000.

A trade association, whose members are supposed to be healers, has demonstrated again and again its cruelty and greed over the decades. The American Medical Association singlehandedly destroyed President Harry Truman’s legislation for universal health insurance in the early Fifties.

Now, there are doctors who make $250,000 in a month or so, while others make that sum every two or three months, while still others make those dollars in half a year–all without any pain and suffering comparable go the patient-victims of bad doctors or bad hospital practices. But the AMA wants more restrictions on victims and more immunity for doctors.

Take the case of Boston Globe health columnist, Betsy A. Lehman, and mother of two young children, age who was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was being treated with 39 chemotherapy at the well-regarded Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. While in the hospital s she was given a massive overdose of they drug which was fatal.

Because Betsy Lehman lost her life, there won’t be much compensation for her pain and suffering. But the AMA wants the law entire country to follow the Indiana law which restricts all damages for wage loss, medical payments and pain and suffering to $500,000. So if a jury awards more than that lifetime sum, the judge is required by law to cut it back.

Notice, of course, the disinterest of the AMA wants the profits of wealthy hospitals and physicians or the five, ten and fifteen million dollar compensation packages for the heads of insurance companies or hospital chains. One hospital chain CEO made over $100 million in one year recently. And doesn’t all malpractice this money come from the same pot as verdicts and settlements come from?

The AMA’s greed and cruelty is unmasked further. Last year and last week, the AMA’s offices in Chicago were called to obtain any studies they might have conducted on medical malpractice among the ranks of 600,000 practicing physicians. The answer: the AMA has no such studies.

But there are studies out of the Harvard School of Public Health by physicians who testify before Congress. Last year Dr. Troyen Brennan told members of Congress that medical malpractice cost the economy about $60 billion a year. Some 80,000 Americans, he has written, die from medical and hospital malpractice in hospitals every year and many more injuries. Uncounted casualties occur in medicine too medicaid mills in the cities and other clinics where medicine is too often substandard.

Eighty thousand preventable fatalities in hospitals amounts to a number of lives lost greater than the combined toll of homicides, motor vehicle fatalities and lives taken by fires.

The AMA also doesn’t want you to know about what you have paid the federal government to collect–the names of malpracticing physicians in the National Practitioner Data Bank. This Data Bank is closed to the public and accessible only to certain state officials and hospitals.

In June 1993, the AMA’s House of Delegates passed a resolution calling for the outright dissolution of this Data Bank.

The House of Representatives, which has substituted past gridĀ­lock with present stampede, passed a $250,000 cap without any hearings and very little debate. Gingrich’s troops behave as if they are under martial law against thinking for themselves Now it is up to the Senate to stop the stampede. Your Senators need o hear from you. Nine of ten medical malpractice victims do not file a legal claim. It is very difficult to win such a lawsuit against a doctor or a hospital who have their peers testifying on their behalf in abundant cumbers. But medicine in America is safer because of the few cases that have overcome these obstacles, compensated patients and disclosed bad practices that led to improvements.