Defend a basic democratic right - vote NO on Initiative 330

The bottom line? In an effort to increase the profits of the insurance companies, the Bush aristocracy and, in Washington state, the folks behind I-330 - all champions of small government and big business - want you to believe that by limiting liability lawsuits against medical providers you will be voting to reduce the cost of healthcare.


What you will be doing is stripping yourself of one of the basic rights in our democracy, specifically your right as the little guy to take on the Goliath insurance companies when you feel you've been wronged.

They trot out their ads proclaiming that the billions of dollars in lawsuits are raising malpractice premiums and driving doctors out of business. What they don't tell you is that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2002 total healthcare cost rose to $1.553 trillion, and that only .62 percent - that's less than 1 percent - was paid out in malpractice premiums. That leaves 99.38 percent of health care cost attributable to causes other than lawsuits.

Per the National Coalition On Health Care, spending for health care in 2003 rose to $1.7 trillion, or 15.3 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP), and it's projected to reach 18.7 percent in 10 years. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in countries where everyone has health care - that awful socialized medicine that insurance companies hate - the costs are at least one-third less than in the United States; 10.9 percent of the GDP in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France.

And, while I'm overloading you with facts, the total out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare in this country rose $13.7 billion in 2003, to $230 billion.

Now, let's talk about where the costs really reside. Drug spending in the United States rose to $180 billion in 2003. Americans consume 3 billion prescriptions on average, and people over 65 spend about $2,300 a year on medications.

Forty-five million people have no health care, but still get sick. When they can't pay their bills, it is passed on to those who can in the form of higher fees that offset the losses, setting up the battles with insurance companies, and the spiraling costs of insurance.

The Bush administration in its zeal to cap lawsuits has grossly exaggerated the benefits of so-called tort reform that would limit damages to $250,000, basing their claims on a 1996 study by two Stanford economists that has been challenged by both the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO); both nonpartisan groups say the savings - if any - would be relatively small.

The Stanford study claims that capping damages could hold down cost by 5 to 9 percent. Both the GAO and CBO question these conclusions, and attempts to duplicate the Stanford findings have found no evidence that tort reform will reduce costs.

Does anyone else find it strange that the conservatives, long the enemies of big government, now want to use big government to disassemble our system of justice in favor of even greater profits for the insurance and drug companies? This is a blatant attempt to take the onus off those responsible for our health care. Where are all those conservatives who go around spouting about personal responsibility?

And, one other piece of information about the so-called frivolous lawsuits that I-330 proponents go on about: Doctors define as "frivolous" any lawsuit in which no payment is made to the victim. They fail to mention that patients and their lawyers withdraw nearly all of those claims voluntarily after thoroughly investigating the cause of the injury, usually at great expense to the lawyer. Cases that are taken to trial and rejected by a jury constitute only 5 percent of all claims. Only about 12 percent of malpractice premium dollars are spent defending claims that are closed without payment. If attorneys never filed an unsuccessful suit, the savings would constitute less than one-tenth of 1 percent of national health expenditures.

Do we have some things to work on in our health care system? Of course we do. Among other changes, we have to get control of drug prices. We pay more for the same drugs than any country on the planet. Drug companies are raking in huge profits, and not so coincidentally, would also benefit from capping lawsuits. We need to find a way to insure all citizens, and reduce the cost burden on the health care systems. And, we need to simplify the bureaucratic process involved in filing claims.

Look, there are almost $2 trillion on the table in our health care system. Anyone who thinks that the behemoths that control that industry won't do almost anything to protect their golden goose is kidding himself or herself. To be sure, we need to simplify the processes of obtaining medical care, and the bureaucracy that swirls around the claims process, but stripping citizens of their only access to remediation is simply ripping up more of our Constitution.

Mike Davis lives in Magnolia. He is a frequent contributor to the News.

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