Statement by Ralph Nader on the occasion of President George W. Bush’s address in Scranton, Pennsylvania on medical malpractice
Today, President George W. Bush showed the nation a cruel ignorance. 80,000 people will die and hundreds of thousands will be seriously injured this year at the hands of negligent or incompetent physicians and hospitals. President Bush ignored their suffering, and the evidence showing how vital are medical malpractice lawsuits in preventing a worsening of the malpractice epidemic. Specific instances of his cruel ignorance:
1. He ignores the medical malpractice epidemic that Harvard physicians estimate takes 80,000 lives a year just in hospitals (not emergency rooms, clinics or physician offices). This preventable violence exceeds the combined fatality toll of motor vehicle crashes and AIDS patients.
2. He ignores the unwillingness of most medical societies, including the American Medical Association, to demand that state licensing boards investigate and discipline the small percentage of physicians who repeatedly account for the mayhem. These dangerous doctors practice dangerous medicine and escape the “responsibility” that Mr. Bush always talks about when he discusses welfare mothers and teachers.
3. He ignores the economic costs of this malpractice epidemic, estimated by Harvard physiciansÝ over ten years ago to cost our people $60 billion a year.
4. He ignores how difficult it is to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. Because of obstacles to filing, ninety percent of patient-victims do not even file a claim for compensation, much less a lawsuit.
5. He ignores the insurance industry’s well-documented over-classification of medical specialties, thereby reducing the pool of specialized physicians (such as OBGYNs) and then refusing to experience rate the bad doctors in their midst by surcharging them.
6. He ignores that the entire payout for medical malpractice violence has been stable for years and amounts to about $4 billion out of a $6 billion premium pool. This amount is less than is spent on dog food in this country.
7. He ignores the cruel impact of a $250,000 lifetime cap on pain and suffering, especially against little babies or children who are malpracticed into permanent and total disability and need 24 hour care for the rest of their lives. They obviously cannot collect for wage loss. Instead of allowing judge and jury and appellate court to make the decision on adequate awards, Mr. Bush wants a PAC-greased Congress to do so from the absentee vantage point of never seeing, hearing and evaluating the evidence in each case. Caps are cruelest on the most serious, outrageous human damage.
8. He ignores the gross inequity of capping innocent, helpless victims who trusted their bad physicians, at $250,000 for a lifetime (of pain and suffering) while letting big insurance executives receive $250,000 a week, week after week without any pain and suffering. These millions of dollars in CEO pay come from the same premium pool, but the President ignores any caps on insurance industry profiteering and the slush funds that too many of their top executives provide themselves.
9. He ignores the actual manipulation of the insurance companies which result in gouging certain medical specialties. These specialists then demand liability limits or threaten to walk off their jobs. He ignores that walking off your job as a physician is unethical by a member of the medical profession.
10. He ignores the data on litigation frequency in this country — fewer civil lawsuits are filed in this country by individual plaintiffs per capita than were filed in pre-civil war America. (University of Wisconsin Law School professors Galanter and Rogers). Yet he says “everybody is suing.”
11. He ignores the right of America’s judges and juries to do their job without having their duties politicized by federal preemption and statutory handcuffs demanding that one shoe size fits all. America is dedicated to individual justice, not a homogenized lowest common denominator model that fattens the profits of insurance companies and their campaign contributions to his allied politicians.
12. He ignores that time and time again insurance companies have openly said that taking away people’s rights to their full day in court (what they call “tort reform”) will not reduce their premiums; in some cases they have even raised premiums after a state enacted restrictions.
13. He ignores his own role as President to advance the homeland security of safer medical and hospital practices by moving to support or enact programs to prevent malpractice mayhem and remove dangerous doctors and reckless hospital and HMO practices from the marketplace.
14. Finally, he ignores the many good suggestions to improve the civil justice system, make it more accessible to the just claims of the people, and to empower the many good doctors to report and take action against dangerous physicians and hospital practices. Not surprisingly, he ignores the need to regulate harmful HMO protocols and the runaway rates of insurance companies.
To simply assume that the state judges cannot or will not throw out any frivolous suits and not provide data for his assertions about frivolous lawsuits is irresponsible and reflects poor staff work at the White House.