- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

Political power, rather than substance, is at the heart of the Democrats’ proposed health care legislation. Admission of that power-politics reality was the most significant occurrence in a very odd town-hall meeting Tuesday night held by Virginia Democratic Rep. James P. Moran. It is now clearer than ever that plaintiffs’ lawyers collectively are the political powerhouse running the health care show.

A constituent at the meeting, quite reasonably, asked Mr. Moran the following question: “There is $200 billion of savings over 10 years if you have [lawsuit] reform, and nobody loses but the lawyers. Why isn’t [lawsuit] reform in the bill?”

On this question, as on more than half of those asked by the audience, Mr. Moran deferred to his guest, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, to provide a response. Mr. Dean’s answer was candid: “When you go to pass an enormous bill like that, the more stuff you put in it, the more enemies you make. The reason that 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…. This bill has enough enemies. The more groups you take on, the more enemies you make.”

When Mr. Moran retook the microphone, he praised the constituent for “a very good question” and added, “that’s your answer … a good answer.”

Of course, the answer was good only in that it accurately described the political situation. On substance, the answer was terrible. Neither Mr. Moran nor Mr. Dean could defend the lack of tort reform in the bill because there is no good, substantive reason for refusing to rein in the wealthy plaintiffs’ bar. There is no good, substantive reason for refusing to protect doctors from ridiculous jackpot justice while the rest of us pay through the nose for the cost of additional malpractice insurance.

The only reason the lawyers escape scot-free is that they give so much money — 95 percent of their federal campaign donations in virtually every election cycle — to the Democrats who are writing the bills.

To be blunt, this mollycoddling of lawyers is legislative malpractice. In state after state that has tried medical malpractice reform — there are 25 in all — costs have gone down, the number of doctors settling in the state has gone up, and patient services have improved. As far back as 2003, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that high litigation costs contributed to declines in health care quality. In 2007, researchers Jonathan Klick of Florida State University and Thomas Stratmann of George Mason University reported that malpractice reforms also appear to have a substantial, beneficial effect on historically underserved populations — for instance, by cutting black infant mortality rates by 6 percent.

Would-be reformers who refuse to stop lawsuit abuse give lie to their claims to be putting patients first. Mr. Dean’s candor should awaken congressional Democrats. The public won’t trust them to reform health care until they stop kowtowing to the plaintiffs’ lawyers who treat them as political chattel.

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