Editor’s note: This is a guest editorial by Senator Brandon Beach, sponsor of Senate Bill 141, the “Patient Injury Act”, it will be followed by a response from Representative Ronnie Mabra at 11 AM.
Tens of thousands of Georgians have less take home pay starting this month thanks to larger health insurance premiums directly attributed to Obamacare. Many of the self-employed, in particular, had to purchase new health insurance and found the sticker shock astounding as they paid for additional coverage they didn’t want or didn’t need.
There is certainly a better way to tackle health care reform. The Georgia Senate is considering my proposal called the Patient Injury Act that would truly reduce health insurance costs by reducing the practice of defensive medicine.
Doctors perform defensive medicine every day when they order more tests and procedures for their patients than are medically necessary to keep from being sued. This pushes up the cost of healthcare for all of us. It was a topic never addressed with Obamacare as trial lawyers are some of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party.
Here in Georgia, we don’t have to follow that path. BioScience Valuation says if we embrace the Patient Injury Act, we could save $8 billion annually in public and private health insurance plans. That’s because when a patient is injured, there would no longer be a lengthy legal process to settle a potential claim. Doctors or hospitals would never be sued again. Instead a panel of healthcare experts would hear the complaint — just as the trial bar has an ethics panel hear complaints about lawyers who may have erred in the practice of their profession.
Under the proposed Patients Compensation System, when the medical panel has found an avoidable harm had occurred, the harmed patient would be promptly awarded compensation. Under our current system, a patient who does file suit doesn’t necessary get their day in court. Only a handful of cases make it to trial and even fewer result in settlements or verdicts.
The PCS would be funded with current malpractice premiums, and it would not require a tax increase.
However, this plan is more than about cost. It is about patients. Take Jennifer Shiver of Woodstock, a new constituent of mine. She is like many victims of medical malpractice. She and her children were turned down by three trial lawyers to represent a case against a Gainesville physician who performed a failed gastric bypass operation on her late husband.
Despite a series of mistakes, from delaying surgery after he was septic to leaving a sponge inside him, attorneys told the widow they didn’t see a huge payout in the case. The said litigation would be too costly. She and her two children got nothing as Jennifer had to raise two children alone.
We know from a 2013 Vanderbilt Law Review article by Emory scholar Joanna Shepherd-Bailey that a majority of attorneys will not take strong cases unless the payout is $500,000 or more.
A patient’s life should not just be a business decision. It is about the harm done to them and their family. Trial lawyers and legal advocates can talk all day long about a patient’s right to a jury trial, but when so few patients have access to justice we know it’s just hyperbole.
The Patients Compensation System is the best idea yet to not only reduce healthcare costs but give all harmed patients the compensation and access to justice they truly deserve.
Beach is a Republican state Senator from Alpharetta and executive director of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.