Ive been hearing a lot about health insurance reform lately. Of course, I have, and Im sure youre thanking me for pointing out the obvious as I do so often in this column.
It does intrigue me that the federal government is finally deciding to get into the health insurance business. This sly workaround could be one of the only ways that health care could be provided to all of our citizens, could allow for people in this county to access quality health care, and may grant families and individuals on very tight budgets some breathing room to receive the prescriptions and procedures they need without having to skip rent, mortgage, utility and credit card payments.
Im very interested, logistical and financial concerns aside, to see who the government invited to the table to discuss its revolutionary proposal. Of course, the usual suspects from the government were present: the President, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Labor Department and a few others. From private industry, the administration invited representatives from the health care field, insurance companies and small and large business concerns. Everyone was invited for an incredible and productive clambake. Or so it seemed.
There was one group that was conspicuously absent from the invitation list. Attorneys.
Hardly surprising, as not too many people actually want these people, or this group, darkening their doorsteps. You know, once an attorney enters the room, there are endless rounds of attorney jokes, people lining up to ask a quick legal question about their divorce, or a really, really minor criminal thing theyre involved in, through no fault of their own, thats no big deal, but just happened to involve a copious amount of illegal substances, a number of firearms and an injury or two, and people who just want to argue for the sake of bragging to their spouse that they argued with, and likely won against, an attorney.
However, in this instance, attorneys should have been asked their opinion on the direction that health care insurance will take in the good old United States.
Attorneys dont insure people, we sure as heck dont create jobs or wealth and we just make everything far more complex than they need to be. But, in my opinion, attorneys, over the past several decades, have made health care and health insurance exponentially more expensive through civil litigation against doctors, hospitals and insurers.
Whether you agree or not with the substance of the lawsuits attorneys have filed against said systems and people on behalf of their clients is immaterial. Some, likely a vast majority, were necessary to remove bad practitioners from the pool, to yank faulty prescription drugs from pharmacies or to rethink, or remove altogether, questionable institutional protocols for patient care. Others, well, werent so vital to the health and safety of our citizens. Either way, every time a suit is filed, the cost of health care increases.
This is why attorney involvement and the issue of tort reform must be discussed in the same breath as a nationalized health insurance system. The only way the government would be able to make a system work such as the type it is currently designing is to put a cap in bench and jury awards for medical malpractice cases.
A few multi-million dollar lawsuits would be all it would take to make this bold experiment and statement by the administration fail. As a taxpayer, I would not want my tax dollars to go to some jury award in which the claim was spurious, but the plaintiffs attorney very talented.
We also have to consider that, with the government entering into the health care and health care insurance arena, that physician pay will likely be much less than what we have historically come to expect and believe. I truly think that some of the smartest, caring and most talented people become physicians. If they really didnt love and or want to do it with their lives, they certainly wouldnt have spent so much time and energy to get to the profession.
These people, much like the people we get to run for elected office these days (with some notable exceptions), will not want to deal with the hassles of being physicians with the pay being what it likely will be. So you have lower salaries, less talent and more problems.
Christopher L. Markham is a general practice attorney based in Frederick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.