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Bush protects pharmaceutical and insurance from lawyers

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Bush Launches Battle to Limit Malpractice Awards
Wed Jan 5, 2005 04:25 PM ET

By Steve Holland
COLLINSVILLE, Ill. (Reuters) - President Bush charged on Wednesday that trial lawyers pursuing medical malpractice lawsuits are driving doctors out of business and driving up health care costs, as he opened a contentious battle to convince Congress to limit malpractice damage awards.

"This system is out of control," Bush said in decrying the proliferation of what he called "junk" lawsuits filed by lawyers looking to enrich themselves with jackpot jury awards that are forcing insurance companies to raise malpractice premiums for doctors.

With his first big speech of the new year in an area considered a magnet for malpractice lawsuits, Bush launched a campaign to limit damages awarded by a jury for malpractice pain and suffering to $250,000, effectively ending multimillion-dollar awards. His plan would still allow unlimited damages to cover economic losses.

Legislation to cap malpractice awards passed the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate.

Bush is hoping a larger Republican majority gained in the November elections will lead his plan to victory this year, but acknowledged it will be difficult for some in Congress to stand up to trial lawyers, who help bankroll many Democratic campaigns.

"It's hard work for some in Congress to stand up to the trial lawyers, I understand that. But all we're asking for is fairness. We want our doctors treated fairly. We want the hospitals treated fairly, and most of all we want the patients and the American people treated fairly," Bush said.


Democrats quickly accused Bush of trying to protect drug companies and favoring the medical industry and insurance companies who contributed mightily to his re-election campaign.

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy called his plan "nothing but a shameful shield for drug companies and HMOs (health management organizations) who hurt people through negligence."

"Barely two months after promising to unify and heal the country after a bitter election, the president's again pushing for legislation that will further divide it," Kennedy said.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, the new Senate minority leader, said "Congress should not be giving a free pass to big drug companies at a time when millions of Americans may have had their health put at risk by pharmaceutical giants" responsible for drugs like Vioxx, which was withdrawn by Merck recently because of health risks.

Trial lawyers say Bush is trying to limit Americans' legal rights and is faking a crisis while protecting the profits of insurance companies.

Bush cited anecdotal evidence of doctors moving away from states with high malpractice insurance premiums or giving up medicine altogether. In 2003, he said, "almost half of all American hospitals lost physicians or reduced services because of medical liability concerns."

"What's happening all across this country is that lawyers are filing baseless suits against hospitals and doctors," he said. "And they're doing it for a simple reason: They know the medical liability system is tilted in their favor."

He said some doctors were turning away patients with complicated, life-threatening conditions to avoid the possibility of getting sued, and this defensive medicine was draining $60 billion to $100 billion from the economy by raising medical bills and increasing insurance costs for employers.

Bush, who will meet members of both parties in Congress at the White House on Thursday to discuss his contentious plan to change Social Security, also said he supported Republican efforts in Congress to curbing class action lawsuits and asbestos liability. Asbestos personal injury claims against companies have skyrocketed in recent years.

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