09.17.09

Who’s side are you on?

Posted in Liberty at 18:19 by RjZ

Conservatives are usually closer to libertarians than democrats are when it comes to fiscal policy. That’s why it’s so surprising for me to see them coming out so strongly in favor of tort reform. Their idea, like this guy writing in to the Durango Herald is that the bulk of the ills in the United States’ health care system stems from doctors paying too much in medical malpractice insurance. Not only that, they’re prescribing ‘defensive’ medical procedures and worse, there are huge, headline grabbing, payouts costing the United States insurance purchaser “in excess of $100 billion” each year.

Mr. Aldrich doesn’t cite any sources for his price tag, and there are many more experts who disagree with him. The Washington Post cites quite a few in this piece, where they also mention the estimated $2.3 trillion that Americans spend on health care each year. Let’s give Aldrich the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows more than dozens of university professors and professional economists around the nation. Still, his frightening $100 billion would still amount to amount to a paltry 4.3% the year expense.

Tort reform hurts the individual. When I was 17 years old I was cleaning a balloon printing press after a day’s work. (Hey, it was a job.) The machine suddenly switched on, thanks, it turned out, to a faulty relay and poor design, and dragged my hand between two geared drums. Fellow workers were able to help me extract my smooshed hand after an excrutiating few minutes.

Two surgeries and a year of nasty physical therapy later, after everything had healed as much is it was going to, I sat in a lawyers office as he opened a large book and scanned the pages. Noting my age and my disability (1 finger, pinky, 90%, permanent; one finger, ring, 30%, permanent) he scanned the tables and compared the information in the rewards column and then arranged to have a check written to me for $2,200. (My medical costs were paid for as well.) The owner of the business had been at fault. He’d not only not maintained the presses, but he had been involved in their custom, not so awesome, design. California, however, is a no-fault worker’s compensation state and the rewards were fixed in this book. My hand still hurts sometimes when it’s cold out and the extent of his punishment for negligent design and maintenance? He had to continue to pay worker’s compensation insurance and I wouldn’t be coming back to work for him, thank you.

I should also mention, that had I come to work drunk that day, and fallen into the machine head first, worker’s compensation insurance would still have been required to pay (I wonder what the value of a crushed head works out to be?) And that’s how folks (usually liberals) defend no-fault insurance and other tort reform. It protects people, even when they’re at fault and saves money at the same time. I am glad I was able to contribute to the welfare of those who don’t have the sense not to come to work drunk.

But while you read about all those giant awards and, without knowing all the facts, and you cringe at what juries award some ignoramus who cries about the pain and suffering he endured when he had a hang nail removed from the wrong toe, ask yourself how you would feel if you were the unfortunate victim of some real, negligent mistake from a doctor or surgeon? Is it really worth less than 5% of all of our health care costs? Will this money really go to the taxpayer? (According that that Wash Post link above, Texas, which caps pain and suffering damages, didn’t save much after all.) Is this really the low hanging fruit that will rescue our health care system?

Limiting damages hurts individuals who actually deserve compensation and removes incentives to avoid accidents. It fails to address the problem (if there really is one, some of that $100 billion is rewarded for damn good reasons!) of juries and judges making unreasonable rewards and strips them of the freedom they once had by making the decisions even before the case has been heard. Libertarians seek to increase individual rights and freedoms, not limit them. I suppose Glenn Beck and friends are only Libertarians when they’re waving the flag, and not when it comes to actually promoting individual rights.

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