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Public Statements

Health Care Week VIII, Day III

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, throughout the debate on health care reform, the administration has made a point of asking various stakeholders to come together and do their part: Doctors and hospitals are being asked to find significant savings, seniors are being asked to make major sacrifices, and so are the States. Every week, it seems, the White House hosts an event aimed at showcasing some sacrifice being made by one group or another--every group, that is, except personal injury lawyers.

It is a glaring omission, since everyone knows that the constant threat of lawsuits is one of the reasons health care premiums for families have skyrocketed more than 100 percent over the past decade and the primary reason many doctors today spend a literal fortune on malpractice insurance even before they open their doors for business. To take just one example, neurosurgeons in Miami can expect to spend more on malpractice insurance every single year than many families in Miami can expect to spend on a new home.

This is a very serious problem, and everyone knows it. Yet we do not hear a word about it--not a word--from any of the Democratic-led committees in Congress that are working on reform. It is not because the administration has not raised the issue. Last month, the President himself acknowledged the widespread use of so-called defensive medicine or the practice of prescribing drugs or tests that are not really needed just to protect oneself from the threat of a lawsuit. During the same speech, the President said we need to explore a whole range of ideas about how to scale back defensive medicine. Well, Democrats in Congress must not have been paying much attention to that part of the speech because I have not heard a single word on this issue from any Democrat since--not one. One exception was the recent suggestion by some in the administration that doctors are performing unnecessary surgeries just to make an extra buck. I think a better explanation is the one the President gave last month when he said doctors often perform certain procedures just to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits.

The costs associated with ever-increasing malpractice insurance and defensive medicine are indeed substantial, and both are simply, of course, passed along to consumers in the form of higher costs for even basic treatments and procedures. Many Americans pay an even higher price when doctors decide the threat of lawsuits and the cost of insurance just is not worth it and decide to close down their practices altogether. Every State feels the effect of out-of-control malpractice suits. One study suggests that Kentucky alone is 2,300 doctors short of the national average--a shortage that could be reduced, in part, by getting a handle on malpractice suits.

I have spoken before about the effects a culture of jackpot lawsuits has on everyday Americans, on people such as Rashelle Perryman of Crittenden County, KY. According to an article in the Louisville Courier Journal, Rashelle's first two babies were born at Crittenden County Hospital, which is about a 10-minute ride from her home. But her third child had to be delivered about 40 miles away. Why?

Well, the rising malpractice rates had forced doctors at Crittenden County Hospital to stop delivering babies altogether. They just could not afford the malpractice insurance.

When the threat of lawsuits drives insurance premiums so high that many doctors are forced to go out of business, that mothers across the country cannot find a local obstetrician, and that health insurance costs for everyone continue to go up, we have a problem that needs to be addressed. Yet every single one of the so-called comprehensive health care reform proposals Democrats are currently putting together in Congress completely and totally ignores this issue.

The only people who benefit from the current system are the personal injury lawyers who can end up taking up to a third of every settlement and, frankly, if it is appealed, an even greater percentage, and protecting them is not what health care reform was supposed to be about. Yet it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is precisely what is going on here. If the administration wants to be comprehensive in its approach, it should ask the personal injury lawyers to make a sacrifice, just as they have asked America's seniors, doctors, Governors, and small business owners to make a sacrifice.

Americans do not want a government takeover of health care. They want reforms that everyone can understand and that all of us can agree on. And nothing could be simpler or more straightforward than putting an end to the junk lawsuits that drive up costs and put doctors out of business. Americans do not want grand schemes, they want commonsense proposals. Medical liability reform would be a very good place to start.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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