Medical Malpractice and the Baltimore Sun

Last week, I wrote about the Baltimore Sun taking a position opposing medical malpractice caps, choosing the new, innovative path of side stepping the substance of this issue and trying to demonize trial lawyers. The Baltimore Sun responded Sunday by printing a letter to the editor offering the opposing view on damage caps, explaining how children who lose a parent by the carelessness of someone else are woefully under-compensated. In other news yesterday, Larry Summers is stepping down from his position as Director of the National Economic Council to co-host The View.

Oh, wait. Those things didn’t happen. Instead, the Sun printed a “me too” editorial from Timonium doctor Mark Hass:

At a time when the nation’s economy is slumping and the governor is proposing to mandate that Maryland hospitals and physicians provide more free care to lower-income families, it’s ironic that the state House Judiciary Committee, led by trial lawyer Joseph F. Vallario Jr., is proposing legislation to roll back the reforms in the state’s medical malpractice insurance policies enacted in 2004 (“Attack of the trial lawyers,” editorial, Feb. 17).

Such a rollback would ultimately result in higher malpractice insurance rates for doctors and hospitals, higher health care costs for consumers, higher health insurance premiums for businesses, and, of course, higher incomes for well-heeled trial lawyers.

Perhaps the “attack” of these lawyers on physicians and hospitals will only abate when enough doctors have left Maryland and enough hospitals have closed that they no longer have anyone left to sue.

Dr. Mark Haas
Timonium


Again, instead of anything other than cursory, unsupported claims that A equals B, the editorial chose to attack trial lawyers in every paragraph of the letter. It is more anti trial lawyer than it is anti altering the limits on medical malpractice caps. It also blithely ignores that the biggest problem most doctors have with medical malpractice lawsuits is the insurance premiums which decrease their income.

There is nothing wrong with doctors defending their own income. Maryland doctors are entitled to make a lot of money because most have earned it. But can’t we just talk honestly about what the driving force is behind all of this anti trial lawyer garbage and the platitudes about the cost of health care as if Maryland doctors are unbiased advocates without a horse in the race?

Has anyone ever proposed that because the purpose of the malpractice cap is to keep medical malpractice premiums for doctors in check, we should exempt from the cap Maryland doctors making over $300,000 a year? This would go over like a lead balloon to the folks at MedChi and it would underscore that this is not about Maryland lawyers against Maryland doctors, but it is about Maryland patients and Maryland juries against Maryland doctors.

Again, I ardently oppose medical malpractice damages caps in Maryland and support the efforts being made in the Maryland General Assembly to roll back the new malpractice cap that the Maryland legislature was tricked into buying into in 2005. Certainly, reasonable arguments supported by facts can be made opposing my view, but no one is doing this in the Baltimore Sun. Instead, we just get a spate of anti medical malpractice lawyer diatribes that ignore the substantive issues.

Updated:
  • Joe Blipp

    >>Has anyone ever proposed that because the purpose of the malpractice cap is to keep medical malpractice premiums for doctors in check, we should exempt from the cap Maryland doctors making over $300,000 a year? This would go over like a lead balloon to the folks at MedChi and it would underscore that this is not about Maryland lawyers against Maryland doctors, but it is about Maryland patients and Maryland juries against Maryland doctors. <
    And we could cap attorneys' contingency fees, further showing that it's not about lawyers enriching themselves at the expense of the health care system but making sure that injured patients are getting the care they need. I think we're likely to see that embraced by trial lawyers well after we see your proposal put into play.

  • Ron Miller

    I appreciate the sentiment. But you are comparing apples to oranges.

    Here is the problem: by capping attorneys’ fees, you limit the quality of patients’ lawyers and make it less likely that lawyers will take cases where there is negligence. (The latter is already a huge problem as it is.) Also, defense lawyers would not cap their fees and the playing field would become even more uneven.

    My real proposal is just let the free market decide what it wants to decide. Let patients choose how much to pay lawyers. Let’s juries decide how much a doctor should have to pay if there is medical malpractice.

  • Cardiologist

    So the House passed a bill which had “just two conditions: Those reforms MUST NOT “LIMIT ATTORNEYS’ FEES or impose caps on damages.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/11/09/frum.trial.lawyers.victory/index.html

    I am a cardiologist, and our reimbursement is going down 40% this year with Medicare cuts. Yet I find it ironic that the health care reform bills include provisions NOT to reduce lawyer fees or place caps on damages.

    I’m a Democrat and believe in health care reform so everyone has insurance. But as doctors take cuts in reimbursements it’s a bit absurd not to also cut reimbursements to lawyers.

    Your argument is somewhat silly — you say that limiting lawyer fees would “limit the quality of patient’s lawyers.” Clearly if you limit doctor salaries, you will LIMIT THE QUALITY of the doctors. Trust me when I say there are differences between doctors (after all, the last person in the medical school class is still a doctor). I’d definitely want the best doctor taking care of my father, and I’m sure you’ll say you’d want the best lawyer to take care of yours. Once people start going into software or Wall Street instead of medicine, don’t complain when quality inevitably goes down and a foreign doctor sees you in the emergency room. Then again, perhaps then you’d have more business since there would be more lawsuits for you.

    I guess it’s “apples to oranges”. To me, they are both fruit and should be handled the same.

    I guess this is what happens when you elect a lawyer as President.

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