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How the trial lawyers won the malpractice debate

The Los Angeles Times gives a recap of the lack of any true malpractice reform included in the health care bills on track to become law.  Two points stand out in this debate — both of which were well known, but are now reinforced by the bill.  One, the trial lawyers have one of the most efficient and powerful lobbying organizations in DC.  And two, regardless of their campaign slogans, lawmakers’ concern for their own job is more important than any long-term, effective change.

With Democratic strategists looking for ways to woo Republican support for the overall healthcare bill, changes in so-called tort law seemed likely. Even President Obama in a speech to the American Medical Assn. said he recognized the issue as a problem.
But after a massive lobbying campaign and party-line votes in Congress, the malpractice system is largely untouched by the Democrats’ healthcare overhaul. Drug makers and the insurance industry, in contrast, were forced to make costly concessions.
“Whoever organized this lobbying effort for the trial lawyers deserves congratulations,” said one rueful senior Senate staffer. “They kept meaningful medical malpractice reform out of the House and Senate — and out of the final bill.”

As the LA Times recalls, with Democratic strategists looking for ways to woo Republican support for the overall healthcare bill, changes in so-called tort law seemed likely. Even President Obama in a speech to the AMA said he recognized the issue as a problem.  But after a massive lobbying campaign and party-line votes in Congress, the malpractice system is largely untouched by the Democrats’ healthcare overhaul. Drug makers and the insurance industry, in contrast, were forced to make costly concessions.  “Whoever organized this lobbying effort for the trial lawyers deserves congratulations,” said one rueful senior Senate staffer. “They kept meaningful medical malpractice reform out of the House and Senate — and out of the final bill.”

In addition to its 90 full-time staffers, the trial lawyers association paid $1 million in 2009 to lobbying and advertising firms to help fight a malpractice overhaul.  During the 2008 campaign, association members sent $3 million to candidates through the organization’s political action committee alone, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. In 2009, an additional $1.1 million went to congressional candidates. In both cycles, more than 95% of the funds went to Democrats.

The lawyers’ campaign escalated in the summer, as conservatives at town hall meetings suggested that “lawsuit abuse” was a big cost driver in healthcare.  The trial lawyers ramped up their effort with a massive amount of advertising on Capitol Hill, including all of the billboards in the Metro station that serves the Senate side of the Capitol.

During the Senate debate, Senate majority leader Harry Reid did allow a vote on an amendment offered by GOP Sen. John Ensign of Nevada that would limit attorney fees.  Lobbyists for the trial lawyers learned about the vote the day before. By the time of the vote the next day, the lawyers and their allies had faxed nearly 700 letters to lawmakers.  The Senate’s only vote on a medical malpractice proposal was a decisive win for the trial lawyers. The amendment was defeated, 66 to 32.

The full article appears in The Los Angeles Times.

3 comments

  1. Steven:

    To quote a great trial lawyer “while physicians were busy sticking leaches on George Washington, lawyers were busy writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution”

    If you dont want to live in a country of law and lawyers, please feel free to move to Iran and take your incompetent medical practices with you. I have physicians in my family who have no problems with lawyers. Most of the ones I have encountered who have a problem have had black marks from the AMA or conduct shady medical practices. Lawyers are taught about legal malpractice from day 1 in law school. It is accepted as part of the trade. And yes, there are PLENTY of lawyers who will take a legal mal case to the bank. Too many pompous physicians who think they are God’s gift to humanity think they can get a free pass while everyone else is held responsible for their actions.

    Although I will admit, the few true ambulance chasers who advertise on TV and billboards probably do more for tort reform than any insurance company. The ABA needs to grow a pair and limit lawyer advertising somehow. Most lawyers would agree with me on this.

  2. Did you read the whole quote Dr Hirsh?

  3. Steven L. Hirsh, MD

    It is truly a shame no one listened to Shakespeare!

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