Tort Reform: A Centerpiece of Paul Ryan’s Onslaught on Obamacare
By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer
The medical malpractice plaintiffs’ bar faces a bruising battle with Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, author of the Repeal and Reform bill.
If enacted, Repeal and Reform would kill Obamacare, and replace it with cheaper and more loosely regulated alternatives--such as tax cuts--while attempting to impose Federal “tort reform”, or damage caps, on the awards personal injury plaintiffs win in court.
Last year, Ryan tried to force Federal tort reform on the non-economic or punitive damages that plaintiffs win in state courts.
Rare Texas GOP Opposition
Even Congressional Republicans fiercely criticized the Speaker for usurping states’ rights.
The House Judiciary Committee delayed the mark-up of Ryan’s Federal tort reform bill, after several Congressmen attacked it as unconstitutional.
“In a rare display of discord on the GOP-led medical malpractice bill, Texas GOP Reps. Ted Poe and Louie Gohmert, opposed the bill, as they said it would violate states’ rights”, according to reporting by The Hill.
“I believe this issue should be left entirely in the state courts, in the states,” Poe said of Ryan’s medical malpractice bill, which would have set a $250,000 cap on non-economic or punitive personal injury damages.
Poe’s position was cheered by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Reps. Han Johnson (D-Wis) and Jarred Nadler (D-NY), according to The Hill.
What’s more, the Committee’s top Democrat Rep. John Conyers (D-NY) called Ryan’s attempt to undermine states’ rights a “strong disrespect of Federalism.”
Insurance Company Boom and Bust Cycles
Meanwhile, Americans for Insurance Reform (AIR), a coalition of nearly 100 consumer and public interest groups, published two new major studies showing tort reform to be a scam perpetuated by the insurance companies to hide their bust cycles.
Insurance companies claim tort reform is enacted to protect doctors from high premiums. This is farcical.
Insurers never pass on savings from tort reform to physicians. It’s all about insurance companies’ maintaining their profits. (www.insurance-reform.org).
The first study, Stable Losses/Unstable Rates 2016, finds that medical malpractice premiums and claims per doctor are currently at their lowest rates ever.
The second study, Premium Deceit 2016: The Failure of “Tort Reform to Cut Insurance Prices, finds damage caps have no impact whatsoever on insurance rates for doctors.
Quite the contrary, states that have set damage caps on the amount of money a malpractice victim can win, saw an average 22.7 percent decrease in doctors’ premiums from 2002 to the present.
States without these caps saw a significantly larger decline of 29.5 percent in doctors’ premiums, the AIR study finds.
“These studies come at a critical time for health care in America, with new Congress and President-elect both indicating they will push for repeal of the Affordable Care Act," the AIR study says.
“Medical malpractice tort reform proposals, which strip injured patients of their legal rights and undermine the authority of local juries, have been part of many ACA replacement bills.
“They are also part of US House Speaker Paul Ryan’s published anti-Obamacare plan, which asserts that such measures are needed to reduce high insurance costs for doctors to keep them in practice.”
The AIR studies show these arguments to be entirely baseless.
Written by Air co-founders, J. Robert Hunter, Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, and Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, Stable Losses and Premium Deceit, also demonstrate how the medical malpractice insurance industry “manufacturers” liability insurance crises for America’s doctors, price-gouging them with skyrocketing rates.
Joanne Doroshow says, “Federal medical malpractice proposals in ACA replacement bills, such as ‘caps’ on compensation for injured patients, are bad polices because they place incredibly cruel and unfair limits on the constitutional rights of everyday Americans.
“They will serve only to line the pockets of insurance companies, reduce the quality of our nation’s healthcare, and increase the deficit as injured victims would be forced to turn to government health and disability programs for help.”
Florida finds Caps Unconstitutional
Meanwhile, the Florida tort reform decisions stand as the most important rulings of the decade.
A Florida appeals court has once again ruled damage caps are unconstitutional. It has decided against damage caps twice before.
The latest case, (Port Charlotte HMA, LLC d/b/a Peace River Regional Medical Center v. Iala Suarez) was decided in the 2nd district court of Florida in November, 2016.
Previously, the 4th district court had also found monetary caps to be unconstitutional in a 2015 case, North Broward Hospital v. Kalitan, according to the expertinstitute.com.
Kailitan concurred with the landmark Florida State Supreme Case in 2014, Estate of McCall v United States, which found caps on damages to be a way for insurance companies to hide their bust cycles from investors.
Judge Fred Lewis ruled in McCall that malpractice victims can’t be discriminated against with damage caps, pursuant to the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens--malpractice victims included.
Furthermore, contrary to what the insurance companies were claiming, “there were no frivolous lawsuits or excessive jury verdicts in Florida,” Judge Lewis ruled.
He declared that “this… “Invidious discrimination” does not “pass constitutional muster.” “(Estate of McCall v. USA, March 13, 2014).
Florida’s steadfast opinion should be followed by other states, as an example to outlaw tort reform. Once a judge or jury decides a case, it should free from hostile, anti-consumer legislation.