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Public Statements

Health Care Week XIV, Day II

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McConnell. Mr. President, over the past few months, I have delivered a series of floor speeches on the kinds of commonsense reforms that Americans were looking for but have not seen in the ongoing debate over health care. In particular, I have noted the glaring absence of medical liability reform in the various Democratic plans that are kicking around here on Capitol Hill.

My point has been simple: Throughout the debate, the administration has been hauling out one group or another onto the White House lawn as a way of suggesting support for its health care plans. We have seen doctors. We have seen nurses. We have seen hospitals, State governments--you name it. But one group you have not seen is the personal injury lawyers who drive up the cost of medicine and premiums for all of us by filing wasteful lawsuits against doctors and hospitals all across our country.

The connection between lawsuits and higher health care costs is obvious. Because of the constant threat of these suits, doctors are forced to order costly but unnecessary tests and procedures to protect themselves. The routine nature of this so-called defensive medicine is one reason health care costs have skyrocketed over the past decade, and junk lawsuits are the primary reason doctors today spend a fortune--a fortune--on liability insurance even before they open their doors for business.

The prevalence of wasteful lawsuits is evidenced by the fact that Americans spend more on lawsuits than any other country and more than twice as much as all but one other country--not because American doctors are somehow more negligent but because our lawsuits tend to be more wasteful. In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, 40 percent--40 percent--of liability suits in the United States are entirely without merit, and even in cases in which the plaintiff prevails, most of the compensation goes to someone other than the victim.

There should be no doubt that wasteful lawsuits are a major reason that health care costs in this country are out of control and that we should do something about it.

We have seen the good results of medical liability reforms at the State level. States that have adopted medical liability reform have witnessed premiums for medical liability insurance fall dramatically. Recent reforms in Texas, for example, helped drive down insurance premiums for doctors by more than 25 percent. These savings have allowed doctors in Texas to see more clients and increase charity care.

Here was a commonsense reform that surely everyone could agree on. Yet, just like the other commonsense reforms Republicans have proposed as a way of fixing our existing health care system, our advice was ignored.

The administration and Democratic leaders in Congress were determined from the outset to press ahead with a massive--a massive--expansion of government rather than take step-by-step reforms that the American people have been asking for all along. We have seen it in every Democratic proposal, including the recently finalized Baucus plan. In the face of indisputable evidence that medical liability reforms would lower costs, the Baucus bill offers nothing more than lip service--a sense of the Senate that ``Congress should consider establishing a state demonstration program.''

Well, we already have State demonstration programs. We have them in California, we have them in Indiana, and we have them in Texas. They work, and we ought to be doing that at the Federal level.

If Democrats were serious about getting rid of junk lawsuits, I am sure they could have found room in the 1,500-page Baucus bill for it. Unfortunately, they did not.

Americans expected more than this. At the outset of this debate, everyone agreed that one of the primary reasons for reform was the need to lower health care costs, and commonsense experience and the testimony of all the experts tells us unequivocally--unequivocally--that ending junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals would lower costs. The question was not whether we should have included it. The only question was, Why would Democrats leave out such a commonsense reform?

Unfortunately, the answer is all too obvious. Here is how a former Democratic National Committee chairman put it recently in a candid moment. This is what he had to say. ``The reason why tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth.''

That is Howard Dean, Dr. Howard Dean, not Senate Republicans. Howard Dean says the reason this obvious, commonsense reform was not included in the Baucus bill is that the authors of the bill did not want to face the wrath of the lawyers.

This is precisely why Americans are concerned about government-driven health care. Commonsense decisions become political decisions. And Americans do not want politics interfering with their health care. Medical liability reform should be in this bill. The fact that it is not only makes Americans more concerned about the impact government-driven health care would have on their lives and on their care.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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