One would think a junior Senator who was appointed by an ousted Governor to take President Obama’s vacated seat would realize that he needs to be a quick study and know what he’s talking about — especially since he’s made four unsuccessful bids at being voted into public office. One would think that the subject of Tort Reform would be on the mind of one of the two senators to represent a state as influential as Illinois. One would think Senator Burris would be able to get the material facts straight. Unfortunately, though he’s one of the 100 votes, it would seem the appointed incumbent remains largely and disappointingly clueless on the subject of Tort Reform, an essential aspect of Health care Reform.

I wrote Senator Burris as a private citizen, expressing my concerns about the upcoming Health Care Reform vote, and the need for Tort Reform within that legislation. His reply is decidedly lacking in substance:

“Medical malpractice lawsuits serve as an important method of recouping lost income, medical expenses, and restitution for pain and suffering in cases where a physician, hospital, or other health provider acts negligently. A person who suffers debilitating injury, due to misconduct, deserves an avenue to seek justice. Our great legal tradition dictates that a jury of peers makes determinations of this kind.”

No one would argue against the idea that a patient who was actually injured by negligence should be compensated. Unfortunately, the Senator is suggesting that this is a binary issue; Burris is essentially saying that we must either allow no law suits at all, or allow any fool with filing fees to sue anyone at any time without cause. No one is suggesting that we abolish all avenues to seek justice. What we are saying is that the system itself should be just; and not impose unnecessary and unfair burdens upon doctors and other health care professionals. What the senator chooses to ignore is that the current system is largely open season on doctors, and anyone and everyone gets to take a pot-shot at them, in hopes of hitting a jackpot. We’re not trying to get rid of all lawsuits against physicians, just working towards improving the system so that it is more honest and fair, so that doctors don’t have to stop everything and spend small fortunes to defend against every greedy jackpot lawyer in the country. That’s why we call it tort REFORM, Senator, not prohibition.

The appointed attorney and career politician isn’t done yet. He continues, saying,

“I recognize that the fear of frivolous malpractice lawsuits may contribute, in part, to increases in medical cost by encouraging doctors to perform unnecessary tests. However, thirty states have already passed malpractice reform legislation, and these laws alone have had little to no impact on medical costs or insurance rates.”

Senator, it’s not the fear of frivolous malpractice suits that “may contribute, in part” to increases in costs. It’s the REALITY of frivolous lawsuits which has a clear and direct causal relationship with increased costs. The remainder of the statement is both inaccurate and irrelevant. Facts show that it’s actually 23 states which limit non-economic damage, 34 that limit punitive damages (which may not paid to the plaintiff anyway,) and 38 which use a formula to determine the base amount that a defendant can be held liable for. (Source: Congressional Budget Office). None of those laws actually puts a cap on awards or minimizes frivolous suits. There are only two states requiring that a case be qualified as having merit before it can be advanced to a trial. Eliminating the 75+ percent of vapid, baseless suits filed which physicians have to defend against at this time would go very far in reducing the costs, both financial and otherwise, that a wrongly accused physician must bear.

Senator Burris now delves into prophecy: “Without real reform that encourages prevention, and brings back competition in the insurance market, costs will never go down.” BAM! Wrong answer. The Congressional Budget Office recently stated that basic tort reforms would save $54 BILLION dollars over the next 10 years. Apparently their data disagrees with the senator’s opinion. While prevention and competition are both good things, costs obviously can go down without them, via tort reforms and other means.

“Still, we should continue to explore all avenues of responsibly reducing costs, while protecting patient’s rights. Which is why, I was pleased by President Obama’s recent call to pursue malpractice reform demonstration projects through the Department of Health and Human Services. As health insurance reform progresses, I will work to ensure that every American has access to affordable, quality health insurance.”

Did I miss something? Didn’t you just categorically state that preventative health care and adding competition (presumably via a government-run alternative,) are the only ways to reduce costs? I’m pretty sure that Mitt Romney’s state is a working demonstration of an alternative method. The triage tribunal on Medical Malpractice cases has likewise proven able to nearly eliminate frivolous cases — a measure which goes a very long way towards eliminating the costs of those cases while reducing MM insurance premiums drastically.

The senator from Illinois concludes with “I will continue to listen closely to what you and other Illinoisans have to say about matters before Congress, the concerns of our communities, and the issues facing Illinois and the nation. My job is not about merely supporting or opposing legislation; it is also about bridging the divide that has paralyzed our nation’s politics.”
If you were listening at all, Senator Burris, you’d have been hearing the fact that Tort Reform is ESSENTIAL to Health Care Reform. The only two sources you seem to be listening to, sir, are the party line and the voice of the trial lawyers who would have to go out and make a living honestly if they were precluded from filing frivolous cases. The divide is called the Aisle there in Congress, sir, and there seems to be very little bridging going on from either side of it when it comes to Tort Reform.

With this as example of the rhetoric being spewed by a member of the U.S. Senate, it’s no wonder that revamping and reforming the system is failing so miserably. Senator Burris’ justifications are weak at best, demonstrating that he clearly has no original thoughts on the matter. Politics as usual, Senator Burris.