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Spencer Aronfeld

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Obamacare Is Not the Only Health Care Law in Town

Posted: 04/ 9/2012 12:58 pm

The recent U.S. Supreme Court arguments on President Obama's health care agenda has stirred up a lot of controversy. As a Florida lawyer representing patients who have been injured or killed by doctors and hospitals for over 20 years, I cannot understand why the oral arguments were not televised. I think it is essential that the American people understand who is making the arguments and why, rather than relying on the nightly news to fill in the gaps.

Not to mention, as our country argued the merits of mandatory health care, a devastating piece of legislation quietly passed the House on primarily a partisan vote. H.R. 5 is a piece of federal medical malpractice tort reform sponsored by Georgia's far-right Republican leader, John "Phil" Gringrey.

The next step for H.R. 5 is the Senate. Should it pass, it will be up to President Obama to veto it. I hope he does. Federalizing medical malpractice may be a dream come true for most doctors, hospitals and the AMA. However, I question how it would help protect patients and improve medical care safety.

If doctors and hospitals were suddenly no longer held accountable by juries for the harm they cause what would restrain them from abandoning patients or providing unacceptable care? Imagine a football game where players would not be at risk for face mask penalties or false starts?

Currently, Florida has imposed significant caps on damages for the injured patients. If a doctor inadvertently harms or kills a patient in the parking lot of the hospital by careless driving, there would be no limit to the amount of compensation due to the plaintiff. However, if that same doctor, inadvertently operates on the same patient's wrong leg while in the hospital, there are damage caps, regardless of what a jury might think the case is worth.

When I went to law school, there was this perception that juries were the trusted voice of our communities. They had the power and insight to resolve disputes between members of society in a civilized and supervised manner.

As the law has evolved, the rich and powerful influence of doctors, hospitals and those who insure them, have slowly stripped away the very essence of our system of justice. Now, no longer are juries to be trusted with deciding claims justly on a case by case basis; rather the legislature has imposed rules which render juries powerless to help those who need it most.

With the passage of H.R. 5: Protecting Access to Healthcare Act " PATH"; the federal government is taking a similar and yet far more frightening position by attempting to take away the state's own sovereignty and function to regulate medical and legal practices. How ironic it is that the Republican party who is so against the passage of President Obama's health care plan because of its infringement on both people and state's rights to regulate health care are so eager to have the federal government take over the regulation of disputes between doctors and their patients.

I hope that Americans are not too distracted by the Obamacare debate to allow H.R. 5 to pass the Senate. It was received by the Senate last week and placed on the Senate's legislative calendar. Until then, doctors and hospitals better be very careful to provide their patients the safest possible care.

 

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