In Health Care Legislation, the Hidden Trial-Lawyer Earmark

The American Association for Justice — the trial lawyers lobby — held a press briefing Monday to outline the group’s legislative agenda for 2010. After the usual anti-business fulminations, the AAJ’s news release offers a list of special interest legislation for the plaintiffs’ bar, including the coded language for opposing medical liability reform in Congress: “Protecting patients injured by medical negligence.” That’s a laudable goal, of course, but limits on non-economic damages do not in any way diminish patient protections.

So far, so good for the litigation lobby. The Senate’s health care bill contains provisions to create state demonstration projects on medical liability that actually prevent effective, cost-saving reforms. As the AAJ’s president, Anthony Tarricone, boasted in an e-mail to members in late December:

I am pleased to report that this bill is clear of any provisions that would limit an injured patient’s rights concerning medical negligence claims. This is a stunning victory for your clients considering great pressure from the insurance industry and other interests to include medical malpractice tort “reform” in this bill. While there is a provision for demonstration projects, it provides an absolute opt-out clause for plaintiffs at any time. While some states may embark on demonstration programs we find objectionable, the opt-out provision for plaintiffs minimizes this concern.

Still, as the intraparty negotiations continue over the health care legislation, it’s the House version that may contain the most dangerous provision, an invitation for more lawsuits that Victor Schwartz of Schook, Hardy and Bacon identifies as a “trial lawyer earmark.”

In a news release from the American Tort Reform Association, Victor points to Section 257 in the House-passed legislation.

“Buried in the House health care bill is a multibillion-dollar bonanza for the trial lawyers,” explained ATRA general counsel Victor Schwartz, referring to Section 257 of the legislation. “The section was inserted without one moment of hearings on its merits.”

He said Section 257 “would empower state attorneys general to hire their trial lawyer friends and bring cash-heavy private lawsuits against practically anyone – small and large employers, health care providers, insurers, and others – for any violation of any one of thousands of regulations that will flow from the bill. The section is not in the Senate bill, but trial lawyer lobbyists with total access to the House and Senate leadership are prepared to do everything possible to keep it in the final legislation.”

It’s a stealth campaign, says Victor (who has represented the NAM in legal cases). And stealthiness explains why the AAJ did not mention Section 257 in its list of priorities.

The House health care bill is H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Here’s the language:

Any State attorney general may bring a civil action in the name of such State as parens patriae on behalf of natural persons residing in such State, in any district court of the United States or State court having jurisdiction of the defendant to secure monetary or equitable relief for violation of any provisions of this title or regulations issued thereunder. Nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting the application of section 514 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

Leave a Reply