Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
Legislatures in state after state continue to push for “tort reform” laws. This is remarkable, considering that there is no real-world evidence such laws deliver the benefits their supporters promise — more jobs, lower prices, more doctors, lower health care costs.
In state after state, data show that tort reform has no clear impact on jobs or how many physicians set up practices there, but tort reform bills are still being passed. Those hurt the most are those that are most injured, such as people who suffer mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos, and who cannot receive the money they really need to care for themselves and their families because of the new laws.
In Michigan, legislators are considering a bill called the called the “Patients First Reform Package.” The bill’s backers say over and over that it is “common sense tort reform legislation that puts patients first.” It will benefit patients by making Michigan a more attractive place for doctors to practice medicine, they say, and this will prevent a physician shortage.
We’ve been through this in other states. Texas continues to claim that its malpractice reforms have brought new doctors to the state, even though careful examination of data says otherwise. Other states that restricted the rights of citizens to file malpractice suits are also are still struggling with the same physician shortages they had before.
Opponents of the Michigan bill point out that, first, Michigan doesn’t have a physician shortage. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2009 Michigan ranked 15th in the nation in the most physicians per 100,000 population. It is comfortably above average in its supply of physicians.
Second, opponents of the bill say it would give physicians a free pass to commit malpractice. An exaggeration? They say one provision of the bill says that as long as a physician “acts with a reasonable and good faith belief” that he is doing what is right for the patient, he is exempt from being sued. How can a plaintiff prove what the physician “believed” when the injury took place? And how is this putting “patients first”?
“Tort reform” stays on the front burner because a lot of money from major corporations and special interest groups is behind an aggressive effort to block citizens’ rights to sue for damages. This money buys a lot of lobbying and activism and is used to persuade state and federal legislators that “tort reform” is just the thing to fix their problems.
Of course, the “tort reform” activists can’t come out and say they want tort “reformed” so that their employers are protected from libel suits, so they promise many other benefits from the proposed “reform.” Trying to sell the Michigan tort reform law as being good for patients, when it is nothing of the sort, is a typical tactic.