The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, July 26, 2002  

President Bush Backs Insurers, Hospitals, Physicians

Here’s a surprise: President George W. Bush has sided with insurers, hospitals, and physicians in the latest eruption of the “malpractice crisis,” an episodic calamity running back some 25 years during which we are gravely warned that without reform, “our nation’s healthcare system will shut down” (or words to that effect), but never does.

“With doctors complaining about rising malpractice insurance premiums, President Bush called today for a major overhaul of the nation’s medical liability system, including legislation to cap compensation for pain and suffering at $250,000 in successful malpractice suits,” reports Sheryl Gay Stolberg in today’s New York Times (“Bush Urges a Cap on Medical Liability”).

In a groundbreaking analysis of the U.S. legal and healthcare systems, one befitting so distinguished a graduate of the Harvard Business School, President Bush said, “Health care costs are up because docs [sic] are worried about getting sued.”

The president added that the liability framework underlying healthcare delivery is “broken and riddled with bad, bad law.” [Emphasis added.]

The administration claims to have the numbers to back up the president’s remarks. “Anticipating the president’s speech, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report . . . that said the cost of malpractice insurance for specialists had risen more than 10 percent in recent years,” according to Stolberg. We’ll need to look closely at the report given that “10 percent in recent years” is a rather unspecific characterization of an arguable trend.

We agree with Ron Pollack, president of Families USA, who criticized the Bush administration for using the issue of malpractice reform as an “unfortunate diversion from the most important health issues facing our country -- expanded health coverage for the uninsured and recently unemployed, prescription drug coverage for seniors and patients’ rights legislation.”

We also wonder why physicians and their professional society, the American Medical Association, so reliably escape genuine scrutiny when the issue of malpractice reform gains momentum. The sorry record of the medical profession, aided and abetted by insurers, in putting incompetent physicians on the sidelines is well documented. That’s an issue we would like to hear more about.

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