Your Congressional representative Dennis Rehberg again stood up in Bozeman this week and said that we don’t need health care reform. What we need are more tax breaks for the wealthy and tort reform. We shouldn’t “force” good health on people if they don’t want it. People should be free to “force” the cost of their treatment on the rest of us. This from the guy who thinks the answer to health care reform is for Congress to take a 30-day vacation and have more tea parties.
Let’s take a look at this “tort reform” thing. Republicans seem to always find it at the root of every problem. In a nutshell, tort reform would put limits on the amount of compensation you can receive in a lawsuit, no matter how right you are. Why is this a good thing? Well, first of all, who supports the republican party? Huge corporations who don’t like having to pay out large sums of money every time they injure or kill someone. Companies would like to be free to rape and pillage the environment without having to pay for their negligence. They would like to have to pay only a set amount so that can be factored into their business plan and passed along to consumers. Tort reform effectively does away with regulation of just about everything. If companies know that they are only going to have to pay a small cost if they break the rules, they are free to do whatever comes to mind without worrying about the consequences.
Tort reform also has an added bonus for Republicans. It reduces the amount of money that is made by lawyers and law firms. Why is that a good thing? Let’s look at where lawyers spend their money. So far, in the 2010 election cycle, lawyers and law firms have given around $6.2 million to the Democratic party and $1.1 million to the Republicans, an almost 6:1 advantage for the Dems. How about Denny himself? OpenSecrets.org reports that Denny has received about 2.4% of his 2010 donations from lawyers and law firms. His opponent, Democrat Dennis McDonald, has received about 15% of his donations from attorneys. Tyler Gernant has also received about 14% from lawyers and law firms. Again, a hefty advantage for Democrats. Both Democratic candidates together still only have about 12% as much money as the incumbent, but if Denny can inject tort reform into the mix, he stands a much better chance of stealing campaign funding from his opponents.
Lastly, how does tort reform factor into the health care debate? Malpractice costs represent an insignificant amount (0.46%) of the cost of health care. Malpractice costs aren’t growing at anywhere near the cost of health care. Many states already have caps on awards. In 2003, Texas placed a limit of $250,000 on malpractice damages. Did it help? No, Texas is still among the highest cost states in the nation for health care. Does fear of malpractice suits drive unnecessary procedures? Yes, and that is one of the things the current bills seek to remedy. All of the current bills seek to do away with unnecessary tests and make medicine more results oriented. We have about the same number of malpractice claims today as we did in the 1980s. The cost of health care has more than doubled in that time and the number of patients has gone up so, the rate of malpractice claims has actually declined. Malpractice cases are very expensive to bring. You need depositions, expert witnesses and investigators. Only 4-7% of injured patients file claims. Malpractice awards don’t even register on the list of important health care issues.
Tort reform continues to be a popular mantra among Republicans any time they can weasel it into any discussion. It reduces regulation, allows their biggest contributors to make more money and takes funding away from Democrats. Tort reform is a win-win ruse for them. It has nothing to do with serious issues like health care reform, but you can expect them to bring it up over and over.