Patients' Rights: Doctors or lawyers?
June 24, 2001
As the Senate debates the Patients' Rights Bill, I am working to make sure it puts patients before plaintiffs. The confusing patients' rights issue comes down to this question: Do we listen to doctors and their patients, or do we listen to lawyers in determining the future of America's health care policy? To me, the answer is obvious.
Excessive lawsuits against doctors and insurance providers concerning health coverage have been driving up the cost of health care for years. I want to reverse that trend in a way that restores the priority and sanctity of the doctor/patient relationship, minimizing the role of lawyers, courts, HMOs and insurance companies.
To accomplish this, we need to do much more than just pass a bill that provides for more gigantic lawsuits against physicians, employers and HMOs which is basically what Sen. Ted Kennedy D-Mass., and other liberal Senators traditionally close to America's trial lawyers are proposing.
Their bill will inevitably drive up insurance premiums and make health care insurance unaffordable for even more of America's individuals and small businesses.
If Sen. Kennedy thinks he's helping the average Joe with his lawsuit bill, he should come to Mississippi. Mississippi's taxpayers are already learning the hard way, footing the bill for our state's reputation as a nationally recognized lawsuit Mecca.
Some of our poorest counties have been deliberately chosen by trial lawyers from around the country as a backdrop for multimillion dollar lawsuits, sometimes involving plaintiffs who have never even seen the Magnolia State. Mississippi's insurance commissioner said this week that 44 insurance companies have already exited Mississippi or stopped selling certain types of insurance citing the "volatile legal climate," and their escalating costs.
Good for lawyers
This climate is great for a few lawyers shopping for their motherload, but really bad news for thousands of working Mississippians looking for health insurance, and for Mississippians looking for a competitive choice in premiums not to mention the folks who may be losing jobs as a result of these departures.
I tend to agree with the patients rights approach authored by Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who is an accomplished heart surgeon by trade. Dr. Frist, joined by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., has crafted a proposal that provides an extensive, objective, out-of-court mechanism in which differences can be resolved, as well as sensible caps on lawsuit damage awards if it comes to that, and then only in a federal court.
These common sense limitations on lawsuits are essential for a good patients rights bill. Eighty-three percent of Americans already say lawsuits with fewer restrictions will make it even harder for working families to afford health insurance coverage and most doctors also support that view.
So, who do we listen to lawyers, represented by Sen. Ted Kennedy, who have helped create the current situation, or professionals like senator and physician Bill Frist, and a majority of his fellow doctors who provide our care?
With America's health at stake, I'll take the doctors.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., welcomes comments about this column. Contact him at 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office).