Out on Medical "Reforms"
January 29, 2003
By Andrew Sarchus
Bravo for Linda McDougal.
To hear Bushites fret about the burgeoning healthcare mess,
rising prices and unaffordable health costs are the fault
of those nasty trial lawyers who just coincidentally support
the Democratic Party with hefty financial contributions. Trial
lawyers file "frivolous" malpractice lawsuits against "hard-working"
doctors and hospitals, who just coincidentally support the
Republican Party with heftier financial contributions. Naturally
the Republicans want to help their wallets (and hurt the opposition's
finances) by siding with the perpetrators rather than the
victims of medical malpractice.
Linda McDougal is a middle-class American with no prior history
of political activism, who suffered a double masectomy because
a hospital pathologist mixed up her chest x-rays with those
of a cancer patient. Now she must live with a permanent and
totally unnecessary disfigurement.
When given the opportunity to speak to a national TV audience
last week, she seized it. She spoke loudly, clearly. And she
dealt a telling blow to the Bush regime's disinformation campaign.
The president offered his devious plan for "reform" of malpractice
legislation two weeks ago. Stripped of frills, the Bush plan
proposes a $250,000 cap on damages while allowing "unlimited"
amounts for medical expenses. So what is wrong here? Well,
for starters medical expenses are actually limited to less
than $50,000 in most cases, including hospital and doctor
charges. Secondly, medical providers routinely "write off"
a portion of the charges due to insurance and HMO discounts.
So a victim of malpractice receives either reimbursement or
a write-off of amounts he owes. These write-offs are negligible
to most providers, given the number of patients they serve.
The use of the term "unlimited" in quantifying medical expenses
is a sham.
Then what about damages? Here exists the only means by which
victims of malpractice can hobble the perpetrators and get
their attention (here in Bush Country, we call it a financial
"two by four upside the head"). By winning a jury award of,
say, $5 million in damages, a victim may recover potential
income lost to disabilities caused by the malpractice. The
award may also hurt the provider's finances enough where reform
takes place, since the "perp" doesn't want to cough up big
cash on preventable medical mistakes. On the other hand, $250,000
is mere pin money to most large hospitals and clinics. Why
try reform when you can write a relatively small check and
send the maimed victim away to sit on a street corner with
a tin cup?
So Linda McDougal, when she was asked what message she wanted
to share with the American people after her ordeal, spoke
the truth: Bush is as much her enemy as the incompetent pathologist
that mixed up her records. Bush's intent, she said, "is to
harm me and other victims of medical malpractice. " She said
that Bush should look at the source - make the doctors accountable.
(On the same morning shows, a spokesperson from the hospital
where McDougal was treated said that the pathologist was "truly
sorry" for his mistake and has "learned a valuable lesson",
but has suffered no penalties, financial or otherwise. Talk
about making the doctors accountable!)
A study by a leading consumer group shows that only 5% of
providers generate over 75% of malpractice complaints. And
study after study has shown that so-called "frivolous" medical
lawsuits are nearly always dismissed in the earliest pre-trial
stage. Linda McDougal has not yet determined whether she will
file a lawsuit. She just wants to be in a position to force
reform on an industry that refuses to reform itself and depends
on GW Bush, Bill Frist, and other GOP solons to neutralize
Through its systematic failure to weed out incompetent and
negligent providers with rigorous fines, suspensions, and
license revocations, the medical industry itself is largely
responsible for our malpractice mess. Providers are the cause
of malpractice, and malpractice lawsuits are the effect. Obviously,
the Bush Administration refuses to acknowledge such facts.
Doing so might cause them to lose count of the money.
By speaking out when given the chance, Linda McDougal may
just have changed the framework of the political debate. No
doubt her bravery has caused the Administration to briefly
scuttle plans to push phony malpractice "reforms" until the
Linda McDougal's courage before a national audience helped
expose Bush as a smirking phony on malpractice reform. Many
other Bush policies, foreign and domestic, need to be exposed.
May she serve as our example.