Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bill Maher on pushing health care reform


“What makes a great president?” Marty asked him one day. “Well, I think that probably everybody who has been elected president was a great person in some aspect or another.” Barack began. “But what makes a great president, as opposed to a great person, is the juxtaposition of the president’s personal characteristics and strengths with the needs of the American people and the country. And when you are a president who happens to come into the office at that juxtaposition, there’s an environment for you to be a great president.” ‘Some presidents were great individuals with extraordinary talents, but their timing was wrong. The great ones were needed by their nation at that point in history.’ Renegade by Richard Wolfee, pp23-24.

Lost in the shuffle of the events taking place in Iran, last week the President gave a speech to the American Medical Association, and a group of doctors about his national healthcare plan. According to Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, he heard something he has not heard before…booing. It was not his healthcare plan with a government sponsored health care insurer that was booed but an issue near and dear to all doctors hearts, award limits on jury awards for medical malpractice cases. Somehow doctors have it in their heads that they are not subject to same rules as every other American citizen or specialized, educated, licensed professional (lawyers, accountants and many others) and somehow they fear the awards of juries. The idea behind most damage awards that comes from juries is the concept of compensatory damages, damages to put the injured party back in the position that they would have been in if the negligence act had not occurred; to attempt as closely as we can to force the wrongdoer to comply with the standard of care or to compensate the victim of his carelessness if he/she fails to do so.

If automobile accidents were being considered, then it is easy to accept that the careless party that caused injury should compensate the injured party for his loss. (Thus the mandatory insurance rules for drivers in most if not all of the states in the country). In our system juries makes decisions whether the accused wrongdoer was in fact careless and that this carelessness caused the injury and then and only then what damages are sufficient to compensate the injured. The concept works the same with medical malpractice. Only if the injured party can first convince the jury that the doctor did not comply with the standard of care, and that failure to comply proximately contributed to the plaintiff’s injury, does the question of damages even begin to be addressed. Then in my opinion, it is the jury’s unique responsibility to assess the damages that are appropriate. There were no caps on jury awards of any time contemplated by the writers of the Constitution, and caps on jury awards of any type far less on medical malpractice verdicts, in my way of thinking contradicts the natural process of awarding damages that juries make in any care. My feeling is that this is why the President told this audience up front, as he did during his campaign, that he wouldn’t consider malpractice caps. He is a Constitutional law scholar and that perhaps capping jury awards is unconstitutional as an unacceptable limit on the right to trial by jury.

Mr. Obama has made suggestions of what he does favor mediation and/or alternative to malpractice suits, where hospitals and doctors admit when they have made mistakes, correct them and compensate the injured party for their loss. Most plaintiffs seek an attorney only after they have exhausted every other avenue and usually do so out of desperation. Studies have shown that the mediation approach may work because most doctors do not admit fault, and this is the reason most people file suit.

I think Mr. Obama has to run a fine line in the pursuit of his health care plan and it will require a coalition of forces, including doctors to get it to pass, but I admire his courage and straight forwardness in discussing issues of interest to the AMA.

“Each time an uninsured American sets foot in an emergency room with no way to reimburse the hospital for care, the cost is handed over to every American family as a bill of about $1,000. It is reflected in higher taxes, higher premiums, higher tax bill costs. It is a hidden tax that will be cut as we insure all American. So, when you hear the naysayer’s claim that I’m trying to bring about government health care plan, they are not telling the truth.

“What I am trying to do with a public option or help to do is affordable healthcare within the reach of millions of Americans.”

I think this is a wise option also. Not just a single payer option, but a government sponsored health care program that those who do not have insurance can choose; millions of people that do not or cannot afford health insurance may finally have an option.

The long and the short of this blog is this: I am glad and proud to have President Obama as my president; Wolfee is right. He is the right man, for our times in that right place; a man who understands the value of trial by jury and necessity of a national health care option.

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