President Obama and Med-Mal Reform, MoJo Skepticism

From Mother Jones, a reasonable assessment of President Obama’s speech Monday to the American Medical Association and his seriousness in agreeing (vaguely) with legal reform to help curb health care costs, “Doctors Boo Obama“:

Hillary Clinton tried this same anti-lawsuit gambit back in the early 1990s and we all know how well that worked out.  Obama’s situation is probably even more hopeless because he’s making promises that the AMA must know he can’t keep. Here’s why: As a constitutional law professor, Obama knows well that most of the legal measures doctors support to reduce “defensive medicine,” including the much vaunted “health court” proposals, are fundamentally unconstitutional. They tend to violate people’s Seventh Amendment rights to a jury trial, among other things. Moreover, with Democrats running the House and Senate, restrictions on medical malpractice lawsuits are most likely dead on arrival.

It’s not just trial lawyer money that will doom the effort. Trial lawyers don’t have nearly as much money as doctors and insurance companies, for one thing. But also, there are some powerful lawyers in Congress who will put up a big fight on this one on principle. Among them: Republican senator and onetime trial lawyer Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, who voted against malpractice reform bills in 2003 and 2004. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), another former trial lawyer, has also been a reliable opponent of lawsuit restrictions. Obama’s own vice president might pose the biggest obstacle to any attempt to limit malpractice suits. Joe Biden was a trial lawyer himself (as is his brother and son, Beau), and the biggest donors during his political career have been fellow plaintiff attorneys. Biden has never once supported a tort reform bill in Congress; it seems unlikely he would start supporting such proposals now.

Don’t underestimate trial lawyer influence; they’re a core constituency.

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