- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Malpractice reform

The May 11 article “Many medical suits lack merit” (Business) highlights a New England Journal of Medicine article by David Studdert et al. from the prestigious Harvard School of Public Health, “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation.” This article points to another study that confirms that the medical liability system is broken and in need of a complete overhaul.

This study showed that 40 percent of medical malpractice suits filed are groundless, showing no evidence that a medical error was committed or that the patient suffered any injury. These cases represent expensive “fishing expeditions” by trial attorneys that drive up the cost of medical liability insurance. The reason this abuse exists is that a quarter of the frivolous groundless claims were settled at a cost of $313,000.

In another famous Harvard study, by Paul Weiler et al., “A Measure of Malpractice: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation & Patient Compensation,”published byHarvard University Press, showed that it is the severity of the injuries to the patient that determines the amount of the award and not any evidence of negligence. Basically, any bad outcome is blamed on the provider even though there in no proof anyone caused the injury. This is why so few medical malpractice cases result in sanctions against the medical provider

These studies are further supported by a 2003 Department of Health and Human Services study and another 2003 study by the Government Accountability Office that showed that the medical liability crisis adds billions to the cost of health care, resulting in higher premiums, higher costs to businesses providing health care and higher medical costs to patients.

HHS reported that reasonable limits on noneconomic damages would reduce the amount of taxpayer cost to the federal government by $50.6 billion per year.

In the current system, less than 30 percent of all money generated through medical liability premiums goes to compensate the injured party. The remaining goes to legal fees, expert witness fees, court costs, administrative costs and so on.

These costs are eventually passed on to the public in terms of higher costs for health care. The result is a loss of precious health care dollars which would otherwise be spent in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The District of Columbia is one of the worst jurisdictions in the country for the medical liability crisis. Doctors continue to flee the city for the surrounding suburbs, decreasing access to health care for D.C. residents and destroying one of the most vibrant industries in the city.

Fortunately, the argument has shifted from the acknowledgement of the crisis to finding solutions. To address this crisis, there are three bills in front of the D.C. Council, one of which was presented by the mayor.

The only way to solve the medical liability crisis is a balanced approach of patient safety measures, insurance reform and a critical package of tort reforms. The costs of this crisis is the loss of access to doctors, loss of jobs, and the squandering of millions of health care dollars that could be used to treat patients. This balanced approach has worked across the country in states like Texas, California, Louisiana, and Indiana.

It will take tremendous leadership by our council to stand up to the powerful, wealthy, and politically savvy trial bar. We must choose the health care of all D.C. residents over the special interests of a few, and pass meaningful reform.

DR. PETER E. LAVINE

Chairman of the board of trustees

Medical Society District of Columbia

Washington

Stars, stripes and vets

For the first time, I agree with a column written by Nat Hentoff. The Flag Desecration Amendment is pure puffery (“Congressional hypocrisy and Old Glory,” Op-Ed, Monday). It’s not that I don’t disdain those who would burn an American symbol, but I recognize, as Mr. Hentoff does, that with freedom, people are free to disagree — no matter how painful.

I am a retired naval officer who fought in two wars under Old Glory, and I truly object to its improper destruction. However, I cannot agree with so-called patriots who define patriotism with an unenforceable amendment against flag desecration simply to make one feel better. Freedom and liberty mean having the ability to dissent in a society that welcomes it, no matter how bitter.

Of course, I do have one objection for Mr. Hentoff: Next time pick a more appropriate column for Memorial Day, one that honors our war dead, rather than a subject bound to elicit controversy over celebration on this Day of Remembrance.

CAPT. RAY WIKSTROM

Navy (retired)

Jacksonville, Fla.

S.J.R. 12 — the Flag Desecration Amendment — does not limit free speech in any way (“Congressional hypocrisy and Old Glory,” Op-Ed, Monday). The proposed amendment would not prevent anyone from saying anything. By the same token, First Amendment freedoms are not absolute.

Until two recent, very narrow 5-4 decisions by the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson and in United States v. Eichman, punishing flag desecration was viewed as compatible with both the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment.

Only those opposed to the will of the people see an amendment as an infringement on free speech. In fact, the amendment returns a right to the American people — the right to protect their flag. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 1989, by just one vote invalidated flag-protection laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

This is a right exercised since our birth, defended by the justices on five previous Supreme Courts and by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who helped adopt the first flag and write the First Amendment.

The full text of the amendment is, “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” It’s simple language to correct a judicial ruling that took from the American people the right to protect their flag, if they so choose. How can that be an attack on the Bill of Rights?

RONALD A. ENGEL

Deputy director

Americanism/Children & Youth

The American Legion

Indianapolis, Ind.

Patent disagreement

Regarding the suggestion that one should “weaken or abandon the judicial presumption of validity and publish patents soon after filing,” the present patent system already unduly burdens small entities (“Testing patent protections,” Commentary, Tuesday).

Extensive pendencies and protracted prosecution over the past several years in some sections at the Patent Office have greatly increased the cost for and delayed the obtaining of patents. These are tremendous burdens to small entities, as opposed to large firms that can easily shrug them off. Large firms do not rely on timely patent issuance to raise funding, as do small entities. This places a disproportionate burden on small entities. Any further burden would serve as a disincentive to small entities to innovate by persuading them that they cannot afford patent protection or that it is not practically obtainable. Let us not forget that the purpose of the patent system as established in the U.S. Constitution is to stimulate innovation. If small entities — those most responsible for major innovations — view that same system as unworkable or impractical, they will not bother.

The present furor over patents is but a red herring fabricated by a handful of large tech firms as a diversion away from the real issue: that they have no valid defense against charges they are using other parties’ technologies without permission. The objective of these large firms is not to fix the patent system, but to destroy it or pervert it so only they may obtain and defend patents; to make it a sport of kings. Patents are a threat against their market dominance. They would rather use their size alone to secure their market position. Patents of others, especially small entities, jeopardize that.

STEPHEN WREN

St. Louis


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