Other issues get media attention, but the big issue this year in the halls of state government has been "medical malpractice reform." Heeding the marching orders of the business lobby, the National Conference on State Legislatures notes that state-level lawmakers have been overturning our civil court system at a rapid clip:
In 2005 alone, 48 states responded to the fevered calls for medical liability reform by introducing over 400 bills in their legislative sessions ... Solutions range from enacting limits on noneconomic damages, to malpractice insurance reform, to gathering lawsuit claim data from malpractice insurance companies and the courts for the purpose of assessing the connection between malpractice settlements and premium rates. Just in the last six months, 27 states have passed over 50 bills that have been signed into law by the state governors.
Many of these state leaders are limiting or repealing the legal rights of citizens in the belief, touted by corporate health care interests and the think tanks they fund, that medical suits are to blame for rising health care costs -- and that removing legal options for citizens will bring health costs down.
But it's just not true. As a research team at Johns Hopkins University found, a far bigger factor is the high costs of drugs and medical services:
Higher prices and not lawsuits or other factors have driven up health care costs in the United States, according to a study published Tuesday.
Malpractice awards in the United States amounted to only $16 per capita in 2001, compared with $12 in Britain and $10 in Australia, the team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found.
The same team found in 2002 that Americans pay more for prescription drugs, hospital stays and doctor visits than citizens of other industrialized countries.
Don't count on this deterring Bush, who sees his Texas "tort reform" experiment as a model for legislation nation-wide, and other state leaders who tow the Chamber of Commerce line. "Tort reform" has never been about helping average citizens, but about removing one of the few avenues still available to citizens to hold corporations accountable, especially in the South. Such counter-veiling power to greed and abuse is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.