Valentine: Obama misleads on health care

Friday, September 18, 2009

President Obama speaks as if there is one healthcare plan and we have two choices: take it or leave it. As I've chronicled in this column, the Republicans have proposed idea after idea only to have the White House and the complicit mainstream media accuse them of obstruction with nothing new to offer.

To date, the Republicans have offered up 35 alternatives to the Democrats' healthcare plan. One is H.R. 3400, the Small Business Health Fairness Act. This act addresses those who work for small businesses that don't offer health insurance. It allows small businesses to pool their workers into a larger group thus minimizing the risk to insurance companies and lowering the premiums. It solves the problem for a great many of those who find themselves uninsured yet, like every other proposal from the Republicans, it has been shot down by the Democrat majority.

Why is that?

It's very simple. The Small Business Health Fairness Act, like all the other Republican proposals, does not make the government the solution. As Dr. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, the congressman who gave the Republican rebuttal to the president's speech, said it doesn't take much for the Democrats and Republicans to be on the same page. If the Democrats would support tort reform and drop this notion of a government-run health insurance company then they'd attract all the support they need for passage of a healthcare bill. Of course, the good doctor was being a bit facetious. The government-run option IS the Democrats' bill. Without it their scheme to socialize America is useless. And, given the millions of dollars that's been stuffed into Democrat campaign war chests by trial lawyers it's unlikely to see any movement on tort reform either.

But, just for grins, let's take tort reform for a moment. Although medical malpractice lawsuits are not the major contributor to your spiraling healthcare bills, they certainly are a component. People who are victims of medical malpractice need legal recourse. There's no debating that. Where the debate hinges is over frivolous lawsuits and over-the-top jury awards.

The first issue is an easy one to fix. In several states there is a built-in solution to this problem. The court system sanctions lawyers who bring frivolous suits to court. In some cases it only takes two to lose your law license. Get the ambulance chasers out of the court system and you go a long way in remedying that problem.

The jury awards are another thing altogether. Republicans want injured parties made whole but where they want to place limits is on punitive damages. In other words, if the jury determines that your loss of lifetime earnings equals $12 million then you are paid what you lost in terms of earning power. However, the Republicans want to limit jackpot juries that award another $40 million in damages against the doctor just to teach him a lesson. This is where negotiations will and should take place. If a doctor is incompetent enough to where, let's say, he amputates the wrong leg then he probably should be punished. Perhaps a jury is as good of an arbiter of that as anyone. Most doctors don't have $40 million so the damages award should probably only go as far as his assets. However, jackpot juries that hit up the insurance company for millions, in turn, raise rates for the rest of us. Malpractice insurance is a cost of doing business. As it rises, so do your medical rates.

Democrats and Republicans only have a couple of major issues to overcome but on those two issues they're still miles apart.