Notably Absent From The Presidents Address: The Scourge Of Trial Lawyers

In the 1960’s, the popular surgery was to remove tonsils (sometimes, as in my mom’s case, it was even necessary). In the 1970’s, the popular surgery was to have perfectly functioning ovaries and uteri removed. In the 1980’s, the popular surgery was to have a knee “scoped”. And, at one time, bloodletting and frontal lobotomies were also en vogue. Clearly, medicine is not always evidence based. Often, doctors are slow to change their prejudices. Doctors are not pure-hearted creatures unmotivated by such base things as financial reward.

All that being said, the real scourge to modern American medicine is not doctors unnecessarily removing tonsils, as President Obama implied during his press conference. The real scourge lurks behind every patient and hangs over every procedure and is terrifying to doctors because their existence can be a living nightmare during one small mistake. The real scourge, trial lawyers, drive most unnecessary procedures these days and President Obama said not one word about them.

Duane Lester writes about this important topic today. He says:

It’s interesting that President Obama discusses unnecessary operations as one of the causes of high health care costs. Do you know what the most often performed operation is in the United States? With heart disease being the number one killer in America, you might think it would be related to that, perhaps bypass surgery or angioplasty.

It’s cesarean section. In 1965, only 4.5 percent of children were delivered via c-section. Today, 31 percent are. That’s a huge increase for a procedure that was once reserved to emergency situations. And as the Los Angeles Times notes, it has resulted in “an explosion in medical bills, an increase in complications — and a reconsideration of the cesarean as a sometimes unnecessary risk.”

What is the reason for the increase? Is it greedy doctors looking for a new summer home? No, it’s something far worse.

John Edwards.

Please go read the whole thing and then come back. It is not hyperbole to indict John Edwards for this problem. He started the problem in the case of C-sections. But for every one John Edwards, there’s ten other trial lawyers suing doctors for some other malady. You see the advertisements on TV. “Have you been wronged? Did you take this drug? Are you experiencing THIS SYMPTOM?!! Call NOW! And get what is rightfully yours!”

Every medicine, procedure, surgery and consultation a doctor must consider from a legal standpoint. Does malpractice occur? Yes. Do unnecessary surgeries and procedures occur? Absolutely. But oftentimes, doctors are doing procedures and taking actions to avoid a lawsuit–that might mean ordering extra tests to “be sure”, doing a procedure “just in case” and performing a surgery “so we don’t miss something.”

In Texas, where the state passed Tort reform, malpractice insurance has dropped and doctors have flooded into the state. That’s a good thing because the population has increased dramatically so Texans need more doctors.

Some patients have been wronged by a doctor’s negligence, so malpractice insurance will be a continued fact of life. And lawyers will need to represent the patient.

Still, lawsuits force doctors to make medical choices that often are more expensive and unnecessary than they otherwise would. And that is the hidden cost of health care the President didn’t talk about.

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