Oh! That Healthy Americans Act!

Okay, so I talked to Senator Wyden today during his “sidewalk office hours” at the mall, and he brought up his universal health care plan (the Healthy Americans Act). I could only nod and smile — I like universal health care, after all but had forgotten the specifics of the bill. But now I remember reading about it on his website, and I did like it, but there is one thing that I was frustrated about:

The Healthy Americans Act will save health care providers from paying the real cost of fixing their errors. They do this by restricting the rights of people to access the courts in cases of malpractice.

If you look at the full description of the act (and yes, I know, that doc is 18 pages long, and the part I’m concerned about is on the bottom of page 17) it has this whole section of rewarding states who engage in “medical malpractice reform.” Some of us might think this refers to making sure there are less medical mistakes that ruin people’s lives or kill them, but it’s actually about minimizing the number of lawsuits and payouts that might affect the bottom line of medical providers. The part that is most frustrating is the proposals that states should:

(3) impose sanctions against plaintiffs and attorneys who file frivolous medial malpractice claims in courts; (4) prohibit attorneys who file three or more medical malpractice actions in states courts from filing others in state courts for a period of 10 years;

First, the whole “sanctions” piece — this will scare everyday folks (since most of us don’t have teams of lawyers) with dire consequences if we try to take someone to court and lose. Not only do we not get our medical bills paid for, but then we have to pay fines or penalties. This is clever — it saves effort for corporations who are too lazy to even countersue us for protecting ourselves. They want the state to take care of it for them with this mysterious “sanctions” process. And who will decide if sanctions are appropriate and impose the sanctions? Our peers from the community, like a jury, let’s say? Or a panel of folks from the industry? hmmmnnn…

And #4 is even more frustrating: insurance providers can have experienced attorneys represent them in malpractice cases, but consumers can’t. I say we can only keep #4 if it’s amended to read: “Medical malpractice insurance providers can only retain attorneys for a period of up to 90 days, at which time they must be fired, along with any support staff who may retain knowledge and expertise, and their case records purged as well.” Then we’ll have a level playing field among the attorneys in any malpractice suit because neither side can have experienced representation.

So, yeah, I’m sure that Senator Wyden has a whole legion of lobbyists and lawyers who can explain why these are “good ideas” — I’m curious what he would say if I asked him about this. Maybe I’ll go to the mall and look for him, once I’ve studied up on the issue here or here. In the meantime, let’s email Ron and tell him that yes, we want health care but also protection from medical errors.

And if you’re one of my friends outside Oregon, email your Senator and ask them to support the Healthy Americans Act.

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