EDITORIAL: Tort reform savings

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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Sen. Max Baucus’ health care bill consists of a dog’s breakfast of taxes after taxes after more taxes. With so much new pressure being put on taxpayers, you might think senators would jump at the chance to find some savings that could eliminate the need for some of the tax increases. Think again. Too many senators are in the hip pocket of the wealthy plaintiffs’ lawyers for them to consider any savings that would diminish the lawyers’ jackpots.

On Oct. 9, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that lawsuit reforms could save the government about $54 billion in health care costs over 10 years. Frankly, we have seen savings estimates nearly four times as high, but even $54 billion is nothing to sneeze at. According to CBO analysis, if Congress instituted caps on noneconomic damages (“pain and suffering” awards and the like), it would be able to eliminate a proposed new tax on medical devices that threatens to put some small manufacturers of health products out of business. At $38.6 billion, that proposed new device tax could be blocked, and Congress still would have more than $15 billion left over.

On top of that, Congress could avoid two-thirds of a proposed new tax on manufacturers and importers of branded drugs, which is slated to bring in $22 billion. Of course, for consumers who really need those medicines, that tax is no bargain. It clearly would be added to the prices consumers pay or to the price of the insurance that covers them.

Yet easy cost savings aren’t being pursued because trial lawyers are among the biggest donors to congressional Democrats, giving as much as 95 percent of all their donations to the donkey party. Or, as former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a town-hall meeting in Reston in August, “When you go to pass a really enormous bill like that, the more stuff you put in it, the more enemies you make, right? And the reason tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on. And that is the plain and simple truth.”

The health-system proposals before Congress are more about politics than about good health. That is the plain and simple truth.

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