Since the 2010 election, there have been a variety of bills proposed by Republicans, at both state & federal levels, that may result in restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. This post is not designed to evaluate the merits of these proposals, but rather how the response to these proposals, particularly a recent bill proposed in South Dakota that would classify actions taken in defense of a fetus as justifiable homicide, represent the conflict spirals discussed in the article ‘Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict’ by Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin. A brief analysis of the tone and nature of the debate over this bill shows the eagerness with which sinister motives were attributed to the opposing sides in this debate. Also worthy of note was the role of the media, which emphasized negative interpretations and furthered controversy, perhaps because it was the best narrative. Continue reading
Of all the ways the Internet is used for humor and commentary, an especially successful format is the photo blog populated with reader submissions around an interesting theme. For instance, Awkward Family Photos became a sensation in mid-2009 for its priceless arrays of dated clothes and questionable poses, while My Parents were Awesome celebrates contributors’ relatives in their attractive, fashionable younger years.
A new site, Born This Way, is now using the same format to address the important mind science question of whether homosexuality is a choice. As the NPR.org article that alerted me to Born This Way puts it, the blog “pairs a snapshot of a gay person as a kid with a personal essay about what he or she sees when looking at the photo,” yielding results that are both “totally delightful… often thoughtful and funny” and “wading in contentious waters.” In multiple contexts now, from its own comments section to those of the NPR and Salon.com articles about it, the site has sparked debate over the influences of choice, nature, and nurture in the development of homosexual adults. Continue reading
I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down [Health Care] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. President Obama – 2011 State of the Union
The President shocked both Republicans and Patients Rights Advocates when he indicated that he would be willing to consider medical malpractice reform. Businesses, Doctors and Tort Reformers have been yelling about the “need” for Medical malpractice reform for years. Members of these groups often point to a recent study (PDF) conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health which found that 40% of malpractice filed claims lack evidence of medical error or actual patient injury. Despite this study many still take issue with the President’s depiction of medical malpractice as an out of control area that needs to be reined in. I will not discuss those arguments in this post. (See Tom Baker’s The Medical Malpractice Myth, for an examination of the academic literature on medical malpractice.)
Instead, I’d like to look at what Republican ideas the President might consider. In the House there is currently a bill that intends to rein in those frivolous lawsuits, H.R. 5. The preamble of the bill says it is, “To improve patient access to health care services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.”
Among other methods, the bill seeks to accomplish its goal by imposing a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages.
Noneconomic damages includes compensation for the pain an injured patient suffers because of a negligent hospital, doctor or other healthcare provider. Noneconomic damages also compensates individuals for the lost company of a loved one or lifetime disfigurement.
To quote Representative Linda Sanchez, “H.R 5 is a deplorable bill”. Indeed, capping noneconomic damages is the most useless method for reducing frivolous lawsuits. Damages caps certainly cut down on total lawsuits, but only because the cap makes it financially infeasible for an attorney to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a person with no economic damages. No job. No lawyer. No lawsuit.
The fact is that an attorney cannot afford to take a case for someone with no income because their maximum award at trial is limited to $250,000. After expert witness fees, court costs and travel, a medical malpractice case can easily cost over $100,000 to get to trial. Leaving the plaintiff little to nothing after attorney’s fees. And with damages capped, insurance companies have almost no incentive to settle.
Sadly, damages caps prevent lawsuits by those who are often the most vulnerable to injury from negligent health providers. Children, the elderly and disabled persons cannot secure representation when a law deems their case has a maximum value of $250,000. We can see this happening in states that have already capped noneconomic damages. Perhaps most notably are the tort reform measures taken in Texas–House Bill 4 and the accompanying Proposition 12. Since those measures passed in 2003 the number of medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas have dropped dramatically. But that drop has been at the expense of thousands of wrongfully injured patients who can no longer secure representation. (For further discussion on HB4 see Mark Lanier‘s interview covering the fallout).
Without a doubt, H.B. 5 is not a solution for reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits. A cap on noneconomic damages does nothing more than arbitrarily reduce the total amount of lawsuits. This reduction is done by creating categories of individuals who get shut of the courthouse doors.