Last week former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin asked on her Facebook page why the House Democrats’ healthcare bills said not a word about tort reform. A good question, since fear of medical malpractice suits–and the multimillion-dollar ‘non-economic” and punitive-damage jackpots that some of them engender–have jacked up the price of medical care as doctors practice defensive medicine with unncecesary tests and hiked up their fees to cover sky-high malpractice insurance premiums. (An example: the more than 50 $1 million-plus jury verdicts and setttlements scored by former trial lawyer and 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards in lawsuits he filed targeting, among others, an obstetrician who delivered a baby born with cerebral palsy and a psychiatrist whose patient committed suicide.
So it seemed pretty natural for Roland Tulino, a resident of Reston, Va., attending an Aug. 25 town hall sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, to ask Moran why the none of the 1,000-page-plus House healthcare draft bills contained any provision for doing something to cap the outrageous damage jackpots that have made the practice of medicine unnecessarily expensive for doctors and patients.
Moran, after hassling Tulino over whether he was really a Reston resident (Tulino proferred identification, and Moran later apologized), turned the podium over to Howard Dean, a physician, former Vermont governor, and former Democratic Party chairman. Here’s what Dean said (and you can watch the vid):
“This is the answer from a doctor and a politician,” said Dean. “Here is why tort reform is not in the bill. When you go to pass a really enormous bill like that the more stuff you put in, the more enemies you make, right? And the reason why tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth. Now, that’s the truth.”
Uh huh. Over the past decade trial lawyers have contributed some $762 million to Democratic candidates for public office. Not surprisingly, they expect tit for tat. House Republicans narrowly succeeded in blocking from the House health bill a proposal that would have allowed freelance trial lawyers to go on bounty-hunting expeditions–supposedly on behalf of the government, but without asking the government’s permission–to collect hypothetical Medicare liens against defendants in malpractice and other accident lawsuits and then keep a portion of the proceeds for themselves.