Moderated by Rick Badie
A Georgia state senator has proposed a tort reform measure that would eliminate the medical malpractice legal process and replace it with something called a Patients’ Compensation System. Today, an advocate for that new system explains how it would benefit patients, doctors and hospitals, while the president of the state trial lawyers group says it usurps the judicial process.
Adopt a new system for medical justice
By Wayne Oliver
Beverly Hodges Bachman is among the hundreds of victims in this country who have been told that, although they lost a loved one to medical malpractice, nothing can be done about it.
Beverly lost her mother, Bobby Hodges, a healthy 75-year-old woman, to a blood clot. It was bad enough medical professionals didn’t listen to her pleas to make sure her mother’s swollen knee wasn’t clotting after an auto accident.
The real blow, however, came when two trial lawyers told her that her mother’s life had no value, and they wouldn’t take a case concerning her death.
“It’s like you don’t count unless you were worth big bucks,” Bachman said. “This woman was a mother, grandmother, a friend. It is a slap in the face to families.”
A recent study by Emory University scholar Joanna Shepherd Bailey found that rarely do attorneys take medical malpractice cases worth less than $500,000. That will soon change if the Georgia Legislature adopts a proposal by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, to eliminate our state’s medical justice system and replace it with a Patients’ Compensation System (PCS).
Under PCS, a patient would be able to file a case for review by a panel of health care experts. If the panel found “avoidable harm” had occurred, the case would be forwarded to a compensation board. The patient would receive compensation no less than under the current, adversarial court system.
The benefits are enormous. Doctors and hospitals would no longer be hauled into court, and injured patients, including those with lower-value injuries, would be compensated. In the new system, a physician who has made an error would be free to participate in enhancing patient safety. The doctor’s personal wealth would not be in jeopardy.
Today, fewer than 20 percent of patients who file suit earn any award. Those who do earn compensation often have to wait years to have their case heard in court. Under PCS, the process would take just months.
There are those who will say PCS is unconstitutional because they fear change and want to protect their profits. But they do not consider Beverly Bachman and what happened to her mom or how this would reduce malpractice premiums by 60 percent for Georgia physicians.
PCS stands the constitutional test because it draws from the 100-year-old workers compensation model. That model protects workers when they are hurt on the job and ensures they are compensated fairly.
Beverly Bachman was never compensated for the loss of her mother. For her, a potential lawsuit was not just about the money. It was about wanting a system that validated her mother’s life and made sure other patients would be protected in the future.
Wayne Oliver is executive director of Patients for Fair Compensation, a non-profit seeking to replace Georgia’s medical tort system with a no-blame, administrative model that increases patient access to justice, reduces defensive medicine and increases patient safety. For more information: www.patientsforfaircompensation.org.
Georgia patients’ rights under assault
By James “Jay” Sadd
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson once said, “I consider (trial by jury) as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” The message behind this statement, reflected in the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and echoed in Article I of the Constitution of the state of Georgia, is simple: The citizen’s right to trial by jury is essential to the American way of life.
And yet, that inviolate right is currently under assault at our state Capitol.
Senate Bill 141, known as the Patient Injury Act, seeks to strip thousands of Georgia’s medical malpractice victims of the constitutional right to seek justice in the courtroom and instead replaces our time-tested civil justice system with a burdensome, taxpayer-funded government bureaucracy. SB 141 runs afoul of our most sacred founding document.
Long gone would be the current jury system, which relies on the common sense and impartial judgment of unbiased citizens. Instead, this newly crafted agency would empower a panel of doctors to sit alone in judgment over their colleagues and fellow physicians who have acted negligently and harmed patients, the ultimate fox guarding the hen house scenario.
Georgians would not stand for a legal system in which truck drivers alone sat in judgment of the errors of their fellow truck drivers. No one would support allowing lawyers to judge the fault of a fellow lawyer sued for legal malpractice. Why, then, would we consent to waive our constitutional rights and stack the deck against Georgia patients?
In reality, SB 141 is based on false premises. In addition to the inherent bias of the proposal, proponents also claim it will reduce the so-called practice of “defensive medicine,” the mythical practice of doctors ordering unnecessary treatments. This assertion flies in the face of the reality that Georgia doctors have to fight daily with profit-driven insurance companies for permission to provide even the most necessary treatments for their patients. How is it, then, that doctors suddenly have become able to order excessive treatments?
This bill leaves unaddressed the true epidemic in our state. Each year, nearly 100,000 Americans are killed as a result of preventable medical errors by health care providers. Millions more are injured annually through negligence. Preventable medical errors would be the sixth leading cause of death in Georgia if they were included in the CDC’s annual rankings.
It is high time to take a serious look at patient safety.
Creating a government-run bureaucracy will not be effective in holding substandard health care providers accountable for the harm they do to Georgia patients, nor will it have a deterrent effect on medical malpractice. This bill will only serve to shield dangerous health care providers from answering for their harmful practices.
We must take a stand for Georgia’s patients, and shield our Constitution from this assault on our rights.
James “Jay” Sadd is president f the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association.