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Editorial: Betrayed Again

August 1, 2003
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The world’s greatest deliberative body, a.k.a. the U.S. Senate, has labored mightily and brought forth failure. “The Senate failed to pass medical liability reform legislation,” President Bush remarked. “The nation’s medical liability system is badly broken, and access to quality health care for Americans is endangered by frivolous and abusive lawsuits.”

The Senate action, while detrimental to the interests of its constituents, was decidedly in the best interests of trial lawyers. “Today’s Senate vote on whether to take action on medical liability reform legislation [the Patients First Act of 2003] thwarted the will of a majority of the American public,” says Donald J. Palisano, M.D., president of the American Medical Association, in an address to the National Press Club that same day.

“Suffice it to say,” Palisano added, “that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, our broken medical liability system adds $70 billion to $126 billion to health care costs each year. Imagine a world in which these resources were used to insure the uninsured, improve access to medical care in rural areas, or spur innovation in medical technology.” You can find the full text of his address at www.ama-assn.org.

Contingency fee lawyers have already publicly stated that tobacco and firearms are just the first of many industries likely to be sued in the new era of regulation by litigation, according to the American Tort Reform Association. Future targets of so-called cost recovery or “recoupment” litigation could include producers of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages; manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and automobiles; internet service providers; and the entertainment industry. The fast-food and gambling industries have already come under attack.

This debacle is of direct and vital interest to the manufacturing community. It adversely affects all manufacturing employees. Medical insurance premiums will continue to increase out of control, while the availability of needed medical services is increasingly likely to be compromised, as Palisano explained in detail.

Whatever portion of its employees’ medical insurance a manufacturer pays will also continue to increase out of control. Some companies have already cut company-paid medical coverage significantly. Others are sure to follow. Some companies have eliminated medical coverage for retirees and others are likely to eliminate all company-paid medical coverage. None of this makes it easy for any manufacturer to attract and retain well-qualified employees, even at a time when unemployment stands at a record high.

Finally, it sends a message to the trial lawyers that they can continue with virtual impunity to extort ridiculous sums of money from manufacturing companies for every bizarre form of so-called product liability that they can invent. Needless to say, this is not an atmosphere conducive to strengthening a fragile economic recovery. U.S. citizens have been betrayed again.

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