The President and Tort Reform

I did not watch the State of The Union Address last night but I read the speech that he was supposed to have delivered.

It was to contain this line: “And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice – leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB-GYN – I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.”

How can anyone with a lick of sense suggest that OB-GYNs do not practice in rural American because of medical negligence lawsuits? Doctors practice medicine where there are patients and where there are hospitals. Hospitals need enough patients to establish and maintain a maternity ward. America does not need and cannot afford a hospital in every county with a maternity ward (which must be staffed 24/7).

Indeed, anyone willing to engage in an intelligent debate of these issues would recognize that the safest place (from the standpoint of litigation) for a doctor to practice medicine is in a rural community where his or her conduct will be judged by people he or she knows. The problem, however, is that there are not enough patients in many counties to make a specialty practice viable for the doctor or make it feasible for a hospital to staff a maternity ward.

Economic reality (something which this President has had difficulty accepting on many fronts) means that some people are going to have to travel to get health care. Just like they have to travel to go to a store other than Dollar General or Fred’s. Just like they have to travel to see a movie or purchase a new car. Just like they have to travel to buy eyeglasses. And while no one would deny that prompt and safe health care is not more important than seeing a movie or buying the latest electronic equipment, there is simply no support for the argument that restricting the right of patients to sue careless doctors and hospitals will in any way cause doctors to set up shop in Burning Stump, Tennessee. Summary judgment on causation.

I look forward to the debate on legitimate factors concerning the potential reform of medical negligence laws. This is not one, but the fact that the President included it in his State of the Union Address suggests to me that his handlers think (a)that it the best argument they have; (b) legislators and the public are ignorant; or (c) both.