Letters to the Editor

Patient-friendly tort reform made easy

I've been disappointed by claims that reforming the tort system would adversely affect the lives of those who suffered the adverse affects of malpractice and penalize them for the rest of their lives for something that they could not have prevented.

I have a proposal that would protect the injured patient while significantly reducing the number of claims and the large sums the courts are awarding patients: Lawyers should be put under the same prospective payment system that Congress placed on hospital care more than two decades ago. They would be reimbursed a set amount for the type of malpractice suit they brought, much like the system where hospitals are reimbursed a set amount for an inpatient admission for a particular disease no matter how sick the patient is and how long the stay extends (within limits). The idea is that the hospital wins on some patients and losses on others, but sets a standard rate based on the anticipated resource intensity and length of stay for each disease.

Under this system, a lawyer bringing suit for an event that results in death gets paid let's say $80,000; inability to work for the rest of the patient's life, $60,000; inability to see, $40,000, and so on. Patients would understand that suing could cost them money if the evidence isn't sufficient, because the lawyer would expect to be reimbursed win or lose.

The current system allows patients to bring unsubstantiated cases without the potential for out-of-pocket costs; lawyers can pursue targets of opportunity without a down side to their clients and push for high-dollar awards and reap a percentage of the take. This new system should lead to significantly fewer suits and stabilized awards and make lawyers more efficient with how they dispose cases, like hospitals have become more efficient with how they hospitalize patients and plan for their discharge. This will be beneficial to all sides:

1. Patients actually wronged by medical malpractice will be protected.

2. Physicians and hospitals will be less apt to practice defensive medicine, reducing unnecessary medical procedures and administrative expenses .

3. Malpractice insurers will defend fewer cases and reduce malpractice insurance rates.

4. Courts will not be overwhelmed with flimsy cases.

5. Juries won't be pressured to provide extreme payments to ensure patients get their due.

6. Good lawyers will be able to make a living by vetting their cases well before taking them on.

7. The government, employers and individuals will benefit through lower health care costs.

I'd be interested to find out what objections Congress has to putting a system in place that replicates controls on the medical system to contain cost and establish high-quality standards. Shouldn't lawyers be held to the same standard within the same industry?

John Tempesco