Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The leader of the free world is out to settle some scores:

Sounds like ole George is on to something, doesn't it? And even if he isn't, what's to like about lawyers, anyway?

Well, sad to say, ole George has let us down. He's right that physicians are hit hard these days with insurance costs. And trial lawyers do love to sue them,sometimes frivolously. But there's another player in this drama he overlooked: the insurance industry and it's not clear why. George W. isn't dumb, as Democrats like to say, but he's not the brightest bulb on the Washington Christmas tree either. So maybe he just forgot. Or maybe he found the facts inconvenient.

A study by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, using the experience in California and statistics developed by the federal government's auditing office, makes the case that capping jury awards has had little impact on malpractice insurance rates. What works best, the foundation found, is tighter regulation of the insurance industry.


Why does Bush ignore this aspect of the problem? No mystery there. It's politics. This is the most blatantly political administration in Washington in decades, and the trial lawyers are viewed by the Bush-Cheney crowd as simply Democratic auxiliaries. Not without reason, one should add. The trial lawyers have been big sugar daddies for the Democrats for more than a decade.

Bush, the politician, has an understandable beef with the tort bar. But Bush, as a proper president, isn't allowed that luxury. As chief magistrate and the people's tribune, he was elected to solve problems like this, not to indulge petty political peeves. Make no mistake, the physicians' growing insurance burden is a crisis. But it can't be resolved without recognizing the insurance industry as part of the problem.

The industry likes to claim it loses money on malpractice coverage. And some companies undoubtedly do. But on the whole, the industry is profitable beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Moreover, the opportunity for cooking the books is greater in the insurance dodge than in almost any other line of work. The industry is not subject to federal regulation; indeed, it's exempt even from antitrust laws.


This contest involves some of the wealthiest segments of American society and the least regulated: the physicians' lobby, the plaintiffs' bar and the insurance industry. But the greatest potential losers in the struggle are ordinary Americans who need dependable physician care and legal redress when that care is shoddy. They look to the president for help in providing it.

In using the crisis to settle a political score with the trial lawyers, Bush is guilty of presidential malpractice.

He hit the nail on the head.

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