Krauthammer: Scrap Senate health care bill, enact tort reform

Chris Rizo Nov. 30, 2009, 12:01am

Charles Krauthammer

Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Tort reform ought to be a cornerstone of the Senate health care overhaul bill, which is currently a "new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency," a leading conservative commentator said Sunday.

The 2,074-page Senate health care plan set for debate would only make the U.S. health care system more bureaucratic, said columnist and physician Charles Krauthammer, noting that the legislation calls for 118 new boards, commissions and programs in addition to a bevy of new regulations and mandates.

"Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative," Krauthammer wrote in his column. "The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method - a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency."

The Senate health care offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., should be jettisoned, Krauthammer wrote.

"The bill is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool," he said.

Krauthammer suggested that Congress tackle problems in the health care system one issue at a time, not in one fell swoop as Democrats are working toward this year. He said reforms should be 'simple" and all "aimed at reducing complexity, arbitrariness and inefficiency."

Enacting legal reforms would be a good starting point, Krauthammer said, noting that such efforts could save billions of taxpayer dollars.

Where does that money go? According to Krauthammer: "Part is simply hemorrhaged into the legal system to benefit a few jackpot lawsuit winners and an army of extravagantly rich malpractice lawyers such as John Edwards. The rest is wasted within the medical system in the millions of unnecessary tests, procedures and referrals undertaken solely to fend off lawsuits."

Neither the health care overhaul bill in the Senate nor in the House addresses tort reform and lawsuit abuse despite estimates by the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

"Indeed, the House bill actually penalizes states that dare 'limit attorneys' fees or impose caps on damages.' Why? Because, as Howard Dean has openly admitted, Democrats don't want "to take on the trial lawyers,'" Krauthammer said, referring to a speech Dean, a physician and former Democratic National Committee chairman said at a town hall event with Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

In addition to enacting tort reforms as Republican House and Senate members have called for, Krauthammer said Congress would be also wise to abolish the prohibition against buying health insurance across state lines.

He said interstate competition for health insurers would help consumers.

"But neither bill lifts the prohibition on interstate competition for health insurance," he said. "Because this would obviate the need - the excuse - for the public option, which the left wing of the Democratic Party sees (correctly) as the royal road to fully socialized medicine."

The Senate health care plan would expand insurance coverage to some-31 million uninsured Americans and bar insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. It would also require most individuals to purchase health coverage either through their employer, on their own or through a public plan.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would be bankrolled with a tax on employer-sponsored group health plans with premiums over $8,500 for individual and $23,000 for family coverage. His plan also calls for a 5.4 percent surtax on adjusted gross personal income exceeding $1 million for couples and $500,000 for individuals.

The draft bill also calls for a new 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic medical procedures as well new annual fees to insurance companies and manufacturers of medical devices and brand-name prescription drugs.

The Senate bill would increase Medicare payroll taxes by one-half percent -- to 1.95 percent -- for individuals earning more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000.

The House-approved plan and the health care bill that is expected to be passed in the Senate will be merged in conference committee before a final bill goes to the president, who has made health care reform the cornerstone of his domestic policy agenda.

The $1 trillion House-approved plan would extend coverage to about 36 million uninsured Americans, and like the Senate plan bars insurers from denying coverage and prohibits the insurance industry from charging higher premiums to consumers with a preexisting condition.

Both the Senate and House bills contain a public insurance option, which proponents say is aimed at injecting more competition into the marketplace. Under the Senate plan, states would have the ability to opt out of the public option.

To pay for the coverage expansion under the House bill, that chamber's legislation calls for, among other things, a 5.4 percent surtax on individuals making more than $500,000 a year or families earning more than $1 million and a 2.5 percent excise tax on medical services or devices. The taxes would raise an estimated $460 billion over 10 years.

If signed by the president, the health care overhaul would mark the most significant expansion of medical care in the United States since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.

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