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Medical Care Access Protection Act of 2006-Motion to Proceed--Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Colorado for his comments. He has made a great contribution. He knows a little bit about this because of his own background as a veterinarian in terms of health care.

I come to the floor to speak as somebody who has personally experienced the phenomenon of being placed in the position toward my practice--I am a practicing physician. I still practice on Monday mornings. I still practice on the weekends. I have delivered several babies during this session of the Senate.

What the American people need to understand is we are going to spend $2.3 trillion this year on health care in this country. And $1 out of every $3 does not go to help anybody get well. We are never going to be able to compete globally if we cannot control the health care costs in this country. So I wish to walk you through, for just a minute, how this threat of liability raises the cost of health care for everybody in this country.

Only 16 percent of the lawsuits that are filed across the entire country have any merit whatsoever. Mr. President, 84 percent of them are filed with the idea that we can intimidate people into settling a case so a lawyer can make money. It has nothing to do with the patient. It has everything to do with enriching the trial bar. I have experienced that personally as a physician who has delivered over 4,000 children into this world.

What happens is, we change the behavior of physicians because of the tremendous liability that is out there. There are some very good statistics that reveal that. We know that 6 percent of the cost of health care today is for tests that are ordered on patients in this country that are not needed by the patient at all but are needed by the physicians to protect them in case they have some aggressive lawyer who wants to try to say: You didn't do everything in your power to make sure somebody is getting well. So we are going to waste $140 billion--$140 billion--this year on tests that our people do not need because of the threat of liability exposure. Think what that money could do for access for everybody else who does not have health care today. We could buy everybody in the country who does not have health care health care with just the money we are wasting on the tests.

The idea of extorting a settlement from a frivolous lawsuit does not come without significant cost to this country. It is not just the cost of the tests that are ordered that are not needed, there is also the cost of defending it. In the one case I have had in 24 years as a physician, the lawyer costs to defend me in that case, which was thrown out of court twice, were $65,000--for that one case. That was just the lawyer fees, and that was back in the 1980s. And I spent about $60,000 worth of time that I was not working taking care of patients to prepare myself for all the grilling and interrogation that comes from an aggressive lawyer who thinks they are going to hit a home run off my insurance that I pay. The consequences of that have been that malpractice rates, liability insurance rates, have skyrocketed.

In Texas, what we know is happening is, it is not just that with their new system, they have more doctors coming, it is not just that the cost of liability insurance is going down, but the availability of care is increasing, and the number of dollars spent on waste for tests we don't need is declining in Texas. But it is going up everywhere else where we have not addressed this problem.

We are going to hear all sorts of cases: that the problem is not the trial bar; the problem is we make mistakes and don't get compensated. Well, that is not the case because most insurance companies, if there is a legitimate case--and doctors make errors--they settle the case. They don't go to court.

What actually happens some of the time as to that 16 percent of the cases that are legitimate, in Oklahoma, is that somebody who truly had an injury does not get compensated because the lawyers who are now defending the doctors have gotten so good that they win cases they probably should not have.

So we have all these distortions that are occurring because the focus is on how much money can we put in the hands of people who ``are representing somebody with an injury,'' when, in fact, they are representing themselves and their own wealth.

I am going to support both of these bills, but we need to wake up in America. If we are going to compete globally, then we have to readdress all of health care in this country. We have to go to a consumer-driven, transparent market where you know what the price is, you know what the outcome of the provider is, you know they are following best practices, and you should not be paying more than anybody else for the same thing. And the value judgment you make on your health care needs to be yours.

We also need to make your insurance yours, not your employers'. And it needs to be able to go with you wherever you go. There will never be job lock if we do that. We need to give the individual the tax break rather than the company the tax break. And we need to put everybody with some skin in the game when it comes to health care. In our country, we know, if we have markets that really drive that, we will improve the quality, we will increase the access, we will get rid of the bad players, and we will lower the costs. And we have to lower the costs of health care. We can do it.

At $2.3 trillion, if we took 20 percent and squeezed it out, we would have $460 billion we would not be spending on health care because it is not being spent on it now--it is spent on the machine of health care and the waste, as I just described it, on tests that are not necessary. That money would go into capital which would raise innovation, which would raise salaries, which would create more jobs, which would create greater prosperity.

But when we have this false sense of entitlement to the trial bar, through extortion--and that is what it is; it is pure extortion, because most of them are filed not with the hopes of winning the case but with extorting the settlement because it is cheaper to settle than to pay all the lawyer fees--we continue to have this ordering of tests that are not necessary because we have to defend ourselves.

I am glad we are going to be addressing that. I plan on introducing another couple of bills in the next week as we address health care to move some of the things I talked about.

In Oklahoma, we have three cities that have over 50,000 people. Since 2003, they each had a total of six OB/GYNs. There are two left out of those three cities because of malpractice rates. Malpractice rates for OB/GYNs in Oklahoma rose 89 percent last year. My partners can't deliver over 100 babies a year without having a tremendous increase, and their average cost for the delivery per baby is over $500 per child, based on the malpractice cost alone.

We have great problems. We can fix them. But we can't fix them by protecting a special interest group that has been protected for years that claims they want to do something great for people but who most of the time are motivated to do something great for themselves.

I yield the floor.

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