Let our doctors do their work - vote YES on Initiative 330

I am sadly amused by all the Initiative 330 ads bombarding my TV. From greedy lawyers throwing around money to stinging portrayals of injured patients, this initiative has invaded my life.

That's why I decided to take a closer look beyond the media hype of this being a war between doctors and lawyers, and find out what I-330 really means for a college student like me. And for the record, no, I do not plan on being a doctor or a trial lawyer some-day.

First is the issue of who actually benefits. Opponents have wrongly tagged this initiative as a ploy for insurance companies and greedy doctors to rake in more money at patients' expense. Meanwhile, supporters have poorly retaliated by using lawyers as the scapegoat.

Let's debunk the propaganda on both sides of the debate.

Sure, there are financial benefits for doctors and insurance companies. By capping non-economic damages to $350,000, insurance premiums for doctors will be lowered while insurance companies won't have to shell out as much money in a lawsuit.

Note that the $350,000 cap is a limit only on non-economic damages, such as emotional pain and suffering. Do not be tricked into thinking this is a limit on the total sum. Injured patients can still recover an unlimited amount for economic damages, such as lost wages and healthcare costs.

Supporters say that despite the cutbacks I-330 still benefits patients by limiting attorney fees so that the injured patients will receive more money in the end. Yet this cutback is not about cracking down on greedy lawyers who want to take your money. It's about balancing the potential money lost from the cap with smaller attorney fees. So in reality, there is no greater financial benefit or loss, only balance.

And no, you are not signing away your rights for a court trial with the arbitration agreement. It is completely voluntary and simply gives you the option to handle a problem outside of court if you don't want to waste your time and money.

On the surface, this looks like a bad deal simply because of the money issue. But what is the bigger picture? Are our current doctors so inadequate and unqualified that we must worry about how much we'll get when we eventually sue them?

This matter is not about the rich getting richer while the rest of us get screwed out of our money - because we won't. I could not care less about how much my doctor saves on insurance; I-330 is really about ensuring quality healthcare from doctors so that negligent mistakes can be prevented.

Let's look at it this way. Doctors are "miracle workers," but they are also only human. Humans make mistakes. Doctors and healthcare professionals are already working in a high-risk environment, where the pressure of success or failure is always lurking. It's unreasonable to expect perfection. Should we punish them for their mistakes?

Also, think about how often life-debilitating accidents happen. More often than not, such outcomes will occur as a result of an already-risky situation in which the stakes are well established. If you have reason to believe your doctor could be capable of blatantly negligent mistakes, then look up a certified, quality doctor online.

Simply put, this initiative is a way to protect doctors from getting sued for every ridiculous thing under the sun. (McDonald's hot-coffee lady, anyone?) Nowadays, people are quick to sue for even the smallest mistakes, at the expense of our health insurance.

When doctors are afraid to provide the fullest extent of their services because they might get sued for making a mistake, we aren't going to get access to the quality healthcare we deserve. Defensive practice will never benefit patients.

I don't want to go through expensive, unnecessary tests just so doctors can be extra sure that they haven't made a mistake on diagnosing my strep throat. I don't want my prescriptions to be compromised because doctors fear the side-effects of anything other than the most minimum amount.

Sure, on the outside it's easy to disregard this initiative as another way for the rich to get richer. How can we not? As much as I don't want to believe, I know that there are selfish doctors out there who avidly support this measure as a way to make more money. I also know there are negligent and unqualified doctors out there who are capable of ruining the lives of innocent patients.

But let's not punish all doctors because of the few. Let our doctors do their work, and we will benefit. I-330 does not reward bad healthcare - it's designed to change our current system so that we can be rewarded in the end.

Crystal Nam is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Lab. This is her first column for the News.
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