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Now which is the party of the people?

By Jeremy Reynolds
web posted July 14, 2003

If you are one of those poor souls naive enough to believe Democratic rhetoric you probably think that Republicans are in bed with big business and the Democrats are the party of the little guy.

A Senate vote last week should put that illusion to rest. The issue is all about legislation to cap damage awards in medical malpractice cases, which now appears to be doomed to failure in the U.S. Senate. While Republicans say frivolous lawsuits are creating a health care crisis, Democrats argue that mistakes by doctors and hospitals are to blame for steep increases in medical insurance premiums.

While the bill would not have limited awards for economic damages, such as lost wages or medical costs, it would have put a $250,000 cap on awards for pain and suffering and curtailed punitive damages.

However, Senate Democrats killed a bill that would have capped at $250,000 awards for pain and suffering. The vote was 49-48 in favor of considering the bill, but fell well short of the 60 votes needed to end the Democrat-led filibuster.

In a statement issued July 9, President Bush said that he was "disappointed that the Senate has failed to pass medical liability reform legislation."

"The Nation's medical liability system is badly broken, and access to quality health care for Americans is endangered by frivolous and abusive lawsuits," Bush said. "The medical liability crisis is driving good doctors out of medicine, and leaving patients in many communities without access to both basic and specialty medical services."

One group strongly opposed to the legislation is the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Interestingly, ATLA has funneled millions of dollars into Democrat campaigns in recent years and has become an apparently vital part of the party.

Research reported by the Republican National Committee showed that among others, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has received over $700,000 in trial lawyer-related contributions since 1991, and Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) has received over $225,000 in trial lawyer-related contributions in the same time period.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) has received over $60,000 in trial lawyer-related contributions since 1991, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) over $250,000. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) received over $625,000 in trial lawyer-related contributions since 1991, and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has received over $160,000 in trial lawyer-related contributions since 1999.

According to www.sickoflawsuits.org, there is cause for concern over all of this litigation because, the group claims, lawsuit abuse affects everyone on different levels.

The group reports that 80 per cent of Americans say personal injury attorneys take too much of their clients' winnings; 76 per cent believe medical liability lawsuits threaten access to quality health care for families; and 74 per cent of Americans consider the issue of medical liability to be a crisis or major problem.

The group also claims that by a 61 per cent to 22 per cent margin, Americans say lawsuits against doctors result in wealthy lawyers rather than improved quality of care for patients and that because of litigation fears, 79 per cent of doctors said they had ordered more tests than they would based only on professional judgment of what is medically needed.

According to anti-lawsuit advocates, it takes at least a year to resolve most lawsuits, and delays of three to five years are not uncommon. In addition, they claim, an estimated $50 billion per year is spent on unnecessary test procedures designed only to guard doctors and hospitals against malpractice claims.

However, senators remain sharply divided on the issue.

The Associated Press reported that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, "Caps don't bring malpractice rates down."

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate GOP whip, countered with a scathing indictment against the current liability system, saying it "encourages excessive litigation, drives up costs and is literally scaring doctors out of the medical profession."

So which is the party of the people? Well, you decide, but I think that if you were in doubt, after the information contained in this short piece, any confusion should have been cleared up!

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • The rise of the fourth branch by Steven Martinovich (June 9, 2003)
    Walter Olson lays bare the effect that trial lawyers are having on America in The Rule of Lawyers: How the New Litigation Elite Threatens America's Rule of Law. Steve Martinovich reviews his efforts
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