Last week, Peach Pundit featured posts supporting and opposing Senate Bill 141, the Patient Injury Act. In a nutshell, the proposed legislation would attempt to reform the way medical malpractice litigation is handled in Georgia. Instead of a jury trial, a new Patient Compensation System and an accompanying Patient Compensation Board would determine payouts when a doctor makes a mistake.
This post isn’t going to debate the pros and cons of the legislation. Instead, it will document how money and influence are trying to get the bill passed.
Because the Patient Injury Act, also known as the Patient Compensation Act, affects several high-powered groups, including doctors, trial lawyers and insurance companies, there is lots of behind the scenes activity going on.
Let’s start with an organization known as Patients for Fair Compensation. This nonpartisan Section 501(c)(4) group appears to be the brains behind the Patient Injury Act. Their website features a section describing the effort to implement a patients’ compensation system in Georgia.
Who runs Patients for Fair Compensation? Its chairman is Richard L. Jackson, the Chair and CEO of Alpharetta based Jackson Healthcare. The company provides temporary staffing, including physicians and other allied health professionals, to hospitals. Mr. Jackson is also on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
In addition to Patients for Fair Compensation, there are at least two other websites supporting SB 141. Georgia’s Patients Compensation System claims to be run by ‘Taxpayers for a Healthy Georgia.’ On the site, they are described as “a grassroots organization committed to replacing our broken health care system, lowering costs for patients and ensuring timely compensation for injured patients.”
Another site, Doctors for A Healthy Georgia, also touts the benefits of the plan proposed by Patients for Fair Compensation. It features testimonials from Georgia physicians about the plan’s benefits, and urges visitors to call the state legislature and the Medical Association of Georgia to register their support.
The domains fixmyhealthcare.com and ahealthygeorgia.com are registered to The Stoneridge Group, an Alpharetta firm known for running digital and direct mail campaigns for Republican candidates.
Last week, some Georgia residents received glossy mailers promoting Senate Bill 141, and urging the recipient to call their State Senator to find out where he or she stands on the bill. The mailer tells the reader to “learn more at fixmyhealthcare.com,” and includes a tear-off business reply postcard for the recipient to send their contact information to Taxpayers for a Healthy Georgia. The postcard is addressed to a Gainesville post office box.
And where did the mailer come from? The return address is 2655 Northwinds Parkway in Alpharetta. And at that address you will find the headquarters of Jackson Healthcare.
Target: Senator Josh McKoon
Josh McKoon represents Senate District 29, which runs along the western border of Georgia, from LaGrange south to Columbus. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has his own law practice, Crowley McKoon.
On January 22nd, Patients for Fair Compensation sponsored a radio advertisement promoting the Patient Injury Act. It aired in the Columbus market. The spot claims Senator McKoon wasn’t supporting the bill because he is a personal injury lawyer who wants to protect his fellow attorneys and the insurance companies. From the ad:
What type of Republican would put personal injury lawyers ahead of these conservative reforms?
State Senator Josh McKoon. Because Josh McKoon is a personal injury lawyer.
It’s a sad day when Josh McKoon puts personal injury lawyers and greedy insurance companies before you.
You can listen to it below.
Senator McKoon responded by sending an email to his campaign supporters, explaining why he felt he couldn’t support the bill. He also posted his position on Facebook.
Josh McKoon funded his campaign with thousands of dollar [sic] from the trial lawyers and liberal special interests. Now he opposes the Patients’ Compensation Act — which lowers healthcare costs by getting lawyers out of medicine.
That’s just WRONG. We can’t afford a Senator who puts the interests of trial lawyers above those of Georgia families.
While no sponsoring organization or website is listed on the McKoon mailer, the Northwinds Parkway return address matches that of the other mailers–Jackson Healthcare.
Senator McKoon is working to stop legislation that would reform the medical liability system, lower healthcare costs, and stop frivolous malpractice lawsuits in Georgia.
Why would so-called conservative Senator Josh McKoon oppose this legislation? Greed.
Click the image at right to view a larger version of the ad.
Why target Senator McKoon with a radio ad, a mail piece and a full page newspaper ad? The committee he chairs doesn’t have initial jurisdiction over the Patient Injury Act. Could it be because he was one of the first to speak out against it?
State Rep. John Pezold, whose District 133 shares many of the same constituents as McKoon’s, took to Facebook to complain.
Apparently one of the few people actually supporting this bill is the guy who stands to make the most cash if it passes…the same guy who (you guessed it), has shelled out money for radio ads and mailers attempting to sully Josh’s reputation. Don’t fall for this garbage.
He also expressed his frustration on Twitter.
— John Pezold (@johnpezold) January 26, 2014
The 60 Plus Association Gets Involved
Another organization appears to be working to steer Senate Bill 141 towards passage. Last fall, the 60 Plus Association began a campaign to get state lawmakers to go on the record in opposition to trial lawyers. The association sent a letter to Georgia Representatives and Senators, asking them to sign a pledge “affirming your opposition to policy goals of the Trial Lawyers,” and promising to publicize the results.
The Sunday January 19th Gwinnett Daily Post featured a full page advertisement with color pictures of President Obama and Senate President Pro-Tem David Shafer, claiming both took money from trial lawyers. Other legislators, including House Speaker David Ralston, were mentioned in similar ads, all paid for by the 60 Plus Association.
The 60 Plus Association was formed in 1992, and is a non-partisan seniors advocacy group, according to its website. They claim they are the conservative alternative to the AARP. Yet, some of the legislators who are the targets of the anti-trial lawyer ads think there might be a link between those supporting Senate Bill 141 and the campaign by 60Plus.
Despite the similar tactics of opposing the interests of trial lawyers, there appears to be no visible connection between 60 Plus and Patients for Fair Compensation.
Who Is Really Pulling the Strings?
Why are Richard Jackson and Jackson Healthcare so interested in reforming the way medical malpractice suits are handled? As mentioned above, the company is in the business of providing doctors and other health professionals to hospitals on a temporary basis. One possible reason is because when a malpractice suit is filed, plaintiffs cast as wide a net as they can, including the hospital, the doctors, the nurses, and more as defendants, depending on the nature of the case. When one of the team members is a temp, he or she tends to get blamed, and that could be the reason to push for changes that would lower damages from malpractice suits.
The Jacksons have also been making political contributions. On October 2nd, Richard Jackson and R. Shane Jackson each maxed out their contributions to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, with $6,300 for the primary election, and $6,300 for the general election. Chad Jackson contributed $1,000 to Cagle’s campaign.
One week later, on October 9th, Richard Jackson contributed the maximum of $2,500 to both the primary and runoff campaigns of Senator Brandon Beach. Shane Jackson and Chad Jackson each gave $2,500 towards Beach’s Primary campaign. Senator Beach, by the way, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 141.
On October 13th, Richard, Shane and Chad Jackson each contributed $12,600 to Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign — $6,300 for the primary and $6,300 for the general election. And on October 16th, Richard Jackson contributed the maximum $6,300 to Attorney General Sam Olens’ primary campaign.
The total? $80,300 from people employed by Jackson Healthcare and its affiliates. According to the Ethics Commission website, the only political contribution by any one of these three people prior to October 2013 was a $250 contribution made by Shane Jackson to Beach’s campaign in 2010.
Richard Jackson is also sponsoring a breakfast with Governor and Mrs. Deal for the Fulton County Republican Party next month.
Everything done by Patients for Fair Compensation, Richard Jackson and Jackson Healthcare, and the 60Plus Association is perfectly legal. People and companies have the right, within the law, to promote their interests.
But, it’s equally important for voters and elected officials to understand who is really pulling the strings. And, with its ads blaming trial lawyers and greedy insurance companies for the lack of progress on Senate Bill 141, it appears there is one special interest that really, really wants to get that piece of legislation passed.