Editor’s note: This is a guest editorial by Representative Ronnie Mabra in response to Senate Bill 141, the “Patient Injury Act.” You can read the editorial by the sponsor of the bill, Senator Brandon Beach here.
As a State Representative and an attorney, I have the unique privilege of representing Georgians at both the Capitol and in the courtroom. And whether I am fighting to obtain justice for a client or advocating for Georgians’ rights under the Gold Dome, one thing remains constant: I always act in the best interest of those whom I have the honor of representing. It is not often that the two intersect, but a proposal currently under consideration before our legislature poses an immediate and potentially disastrous threat to not only my clients and my constituents, but to every citizen of the State of Georgia.
A bill known as the ‘Patient Injury Act’ has been introduced in the Georgia General Assembly and I have some very serious concerns about the impact that this legislation would have on our state if it were signed into law. At its very core, this bill seeks to eliminate Georgia patients’ Constitutional Right to Trial by Jury when they have been harmed by their healthcare provider and instead replace our time-tested civil jury system with a taxpayer-funded government panel. As an attorney who has had the privilege of representing innocent victims of medical malpractice in the courtroom before a jury of their fellow citizens, I find this to be wholly unacceptable.
Our Right to Trial by Jury, which is enshrined in the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and reaffirmed in Paragraph XI of the Constitution of the State of Georgia, is as important to ensuring the continuance of our just society as any guarantee set forth in our founding documents. This Right is, in my mind, the great equalizer – an opportunity for all individuals, regardless of their standing in society, to seek justice before an unbiased jury of their fellow citizens on a level playing field. In fact, the authors of our state’s Constitution believed so strongly in this Right that they even went a step further than the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, writing that the Right to Trial by Jury shall remain “inviolate” – leaving very little room for the erosion of this promise. Through my studies of both the law and the Constitution, I am absolutely certain that this legislation would be held to be an unconstitutional violation of the Right to Trial by Jury.
I hear from constituents in my district each and every day about the crippling costs of the healthcare system in our country. Unfortunately, the proponents of this measure have taken advantage of these all-too-familiar anxieties by falsely and misleadingly presenting their bill as the silver bullet to solve expensive healthcare. This is shameful exploitation, and their claims simply could not be further from the truth.
Take, for example, the fact that the frequency of medical malpractice payments on behalf of doctors and the sum of these payments have fallen every single year over the past decade. In addition, while national healthcare costs have risen 58% over the last 10 years, malpractice payments fell 29% over that same period. Even if you were to eliminate the entire medical liability system in America, you would achieve savings of only ½ of 1% of all healthcare costs. And yet, they want you to believe that it is the victims of medical malpractice who are driving up the cost of healthcare.
The ‘Patient Injury Act’ will not be effective in holding negligent healthcare providers accountable for the harm that they do to Georgia patients and it will not have a deterrent effect on healthcare costs in our state. In fact, this bill levies a brand new tax on doctors, dentists, nurses and hospitals that could amount to nearly $50 million just to pay for the costs of their new system alone.
While I do not support taking away Georgia citizens’ Constitutional Right to Trial by Jury in order to achieve the phantom savings associated with this bill, I do believe that we must take a serious look at common-sense solutions to ensure that healthcare coverage is a realistic and affordable option for all Georgians. This bill does not belong in that conversation.
Let’s go back to the drawing board. My constituents, clients and fellow Georgians all deserve better.
State Representative Ronnie Mabra represents House District 63, comprising South Fulton, North Fayette, and South Clayton Counties.