Friday, June 26, 2009

One Part of the Healthcare Equation

Yesterday, while waiting for my son to get done with summer school (Day 6 of 20; UGH!), I was chilling out listening to Rush. The topic, of course, was Obamascare, and one of his talking points caught my attention as something we have overlooked in our discussions about this hideous program: tort reform.

Part of the reason that health care in this country is so expensive is because of the litigious nature of some people. If a doctor is so incompetent that they amputate the wrong limb, he or she should permanently lose their license to practice. The problem lies in those who are looking to make quick money in a settlement and, along with their slimy lawyers, nitpick about every little detail.

There was a time when I was growing up where doctors were able to practice medicine very efficiently, often for little or no cost.

The family doctor we had growing up was a man of many talents. He delivered my dad, me, and my brother. He was also a certified surgeon and often performed minor surgeries in his office under local anesthesia (He cut a piece of glass out of my foot that way). When we got sick, my mother would often call the office, and nine times out of ten she spoke with the nurse, who was equally as knowledgable about medicine as Doc Cam. Ann was the one we saw most often. If you went to the office and had to see Doc Cam, you were REALLY sick. And if he referred you to someone else, you were probably on your way to the Pearly Gates. My parents often paid what they could, and Doc Cam was okay with that. In all those years, not once was litigation a thought. Even when my mom and my brother almost lost their lives during childbirth, suing Doc was not a thought.

Today, doctors have to worry about making mistakes. Yes, we are talking about what could potentially be mistakes with grave consequences (no pun intended), but at what point does the gravy train stop? The cost of health care has skyrocketed in recent years for a few reasons:
  1. Research and Development of new drugs and procedures -- Let's face it. If you want the best medical treatment on the planet, it's going to cost for the latest cutting-edge treatments. Sorry, but it boils down to the business end of medicine.
  2. Third-party insurance companies -- When someone is getting medical treatment and not having to pay for it entirely, they normally don't care what the cost is. Couple that with greedy doctors trying to soak the insurance companies, and you've got out-of-control costs.
  3. Litigation costs -- It's amazing that being a doctor nowadays is going to cost you a hefty bundle of money in malpractice premiums. Also, a doctor will sometimes order unnecessary tests to cover their butts and avoid a lawsuit. This shouldn't be.
While we've all heard about the first two, I'd like to talk about the third.

As many of you know, I have two autistic kids. Their disorder, to me, is a way for God to teach me something (and He has; patience), not a free ticket through life. Many people, though, feel that their children's "disabilities" HAD to be caused by something the obstetrician did because Heaven knows that they would NEVER have a special needs child. This has led to even ADHD being blamed on a "birth injury". The doctor is in a position of settling a lawsuit or possibly losing more by fighting it. Guess what they usually do because it's cheaper. Then the malpractice premiums go up, and to recoup that cost, their fees go up. An OB/GYN in Massachusetts can pay between $75,000 and $100,000 a year for malpractice insurance. If they don't deliver babies and only stay with gynecology, the rates drop to $30,000-$50,000 a year. And it's all because of litigation by those wanting fast money from someone else.

The lawyers in today's society are just as much to blame. While they convince a client that they have an airtight case by doing a little word manipulation (define "is"), they're seeing nothing but dollar signs. The average contingency fee is between 25 and 40 percent. They have no qualms about ruining a good doctor's reputation based on a client's word if they're going to get almost half. What a bunch of unethical ghouls they are. Evidently, "shame" is something law school doesn't teach because most attorneys don't have any. Disgusting.

While I don't claim to have all the answers, I do believe there are a few things that can be done to limit needless lawsuits against medical professionals:

  1. Allow doctors to do what they can to lower costs without compromising care -- There are those few rare doctors out there who try to keep costs down. My doctor knows I have a copay for meds, so he always gives me samples to help out. He said he'd rather save me the copay than give them to a welfare recipient. Let doctors decide where to make the cuts necessary to lower costs.
  2. Let general practitioners have more freedom to do certain things in the office -- My doctor checked out a lump on my finger (a wart; never had one didn't know what it was) and told me to put duct tape on it. He could've sent me to a dermatologist unnecessarily, but he was confident enough in his diagnosis and treatment suggestions. The duct tape is actually working. These are the kind of doctors we need. Doctors shouldn't have to fear a lawsuit because they didn't refer a patient to a specialist.
  3. Weed out the truly unnecessary lawsuits -- It amazes me how many people will have surgery (sometimes life-saving) and then sue the doctor because they have a scar. Sometimes, they actually win. I went to my gynecologist yesterday for a checkup. By some sick people's twisted logic, couldn't I go to an attorney and say that I was harassed because he touched my genital area? These are the venomous word games that attorneys will play with the English language. By the way, I love my gynecologist; very professional and an all-around great guy.
  4. Weed out the truly bad doctors -- Let's face it. At one time or another, we've all run across a doctor that you look at and go "HUH?" There are some really bad doctors out there, and they need to go. They shouldn't even be cutting vegetables for a salad let alone doing surgery. Their incompetence has fueled the litigation fire, and the flames keep spreading. Blatantly gross negligence is unexcusable, and those whose lives are completely shattered by the wrong limb being amputated, the wrong organ removed, or where the result is death for what initially is a minor ailment deserve compensation.
  5. Limit the attorney's contingency fee to 5% maximum -- While I don't feel attorneys should get anymore than what they charge by the hour, if they're going to file ridiculous lawsuits, take away the incentive.
  6. Let doctors be the jury in cases that go to trial -- According to the Constitution, we are entitled to a jury of our peers. Well, having housewives, mechanics, and factory workers sitting on a jury where a doctor is the defendant isn't a jury of peers, is it? I say that once all the evidence and testimony are gathered, remove all personal information (use aliases) and turn it over to a team of medical experts to review and give their opinion. That would be more like it.
  7. You file a frivolous lawsuit and lose, you pay all costs -- enough said.
Tort reform is long overdue. While many have tried to pass it before to no avail, we've got to pressure our legislators to support any tort reform measure that comes along. That would open up the free market to help lower the cost of health care. You cannot break the laws of economics and come out ahead.

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Bungalow Bill said...

If they would get the lawyers out of the hospital, healthcare cost would go down.

blackandgoldfan said...

A point made well. Unfortunately, the lawyers have to be on staff to defend against the predatory ambulance chasers. Those slimeballs have no code of ethics.

Andrew33 said...

There was once a time when you went to your doctor and paid him or her. It was a simple time and we had a simple system. Now we have a thousand hands as well as a government wanting it's hands in that cookie jar. I say we hit the reset button and go back to the very old way and everything will fix itself, but who am I to talk.

blackandgoldfan said...

There are still doctors, especially here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, who will barter for services. Much simpler and much cheaper.