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Opinion

My Side of the Fencepost

Tort Reform discussion needed

By Jim Dickerson

I was asked the other day about my opinion on health care reform. It’s not an easy issue. I believe we could reach consensus on some changes in the American health care system that could benefit our society, but we can’t rush through the process.

I would agree that, overall, we have excellent health care in the United States. However, health insurance costs are shooting past the affordability level for many businesses and individuals. That is a primary reason for considering reform.

If we’re looking at comprehensive reforms in the system, and we’ve come to the conclusion that rapidly increasing cost is a big problem, then we should take a detailed look at all factors contributing to those costs. Malpractice cases, and malpractice insurance costs, are among those factors.

Dealing with the tort reform issue will take considerably more time than President Obama originally had in mind, but now the door has finally been opened. Debate seems to be getting started on this complex issue.

Personally, I believe that health care costs have been influenced over the years by the cost of malpractice insurance, the threat of malpractice suits and the high cost of settlements.

Aside from the possibility of setting limits on malpractice judgements, which has always been part of the discussion, there are some other interesting proposals making the rounds.

One of those would establish special “medical courts” — judges with medical expertise — to hear malpractice cases and determine settlements. Another proposal would use medical experts (or panels of experts) to weed out possible frivolous malpractice cases. Of course, adding another layer to the court system will likely increase health care costs.

Since tort reform is just one of a long list of related issues, I can understand why reforms have been slow in coming.

Like many other Americans, I have some trouble sorting through the rhetoric to determine truth and fiction. I have my doubts about some of the president’s statements in last week’s speech to Congress — especially his statement that his health care reform “would not add one penny” to insurance premium costs, to federal taxes, or to the federal deficit.

With all the details yet to be determined, and based on the track record of every federal program that has been signed into law in the past 80 years, I just can’t believe that.

We are proposing to add more than 30 million currently uninsured Americans to the system, make sure all pre-existing conditions are covered and pretty much guarantee that health coverage is available to all citizens. I don’t believe the federal government can accomplish this without increased cost to taxpayers and ratepayers, or increasing the national debt.

A lot has been said and written about the “public option” of government health coverage within the president’s reform proposal. There is legitimate concern that a public option would remove any profitability for private insurers and take them out of the picture, which would leave average Americans with one insurance option — the government plan.

Various proposals have been made to allow for both the private and public options, including cost “triggers” that would give citizens the option of using the government plan.

If the whole thing boils down to a public plan that is the most practical for the most Americans, it isn’t a large stretch to call that “Medicare for all.” Some have taken the next step and dubbed it “socialized medicine.” Hardly anyone likes the sound of that. It could mean rationed care and long waits for treatment.

At the same time, I believe there is an ongoing misinformation campaign on the internet. It has already played a large roll in convincing many people that “death panels” would be established to “pull the plug” on elderly people.

Various fact checking organizations have discredited this claim. This simply isn’t part of the legislation, but many people continue to believe it.

There is a provision for Medicare to pay for VOLUNTARY end of life counseling sessions for people who are facing terminal illness.

In conclusion, I don’t see the need for a big rush to pass a reform bill within the next month or two. Congress and the Obama Administration need to think this whole thing through, build consensus and come up with a workable plan. It’s too important to rush.