I think I’d be downright enthusiastic about Bill Bradley’s plan to marry health care reform with tort reform. It seems to me that legal damages are basically an ad hoc way of compensating for a lack of regulatory oversight, and that government-subsidized coverage for things like preexisting conditions and expensive medical procedures would obviate the need for costly judicial remedies. Assuming we guarantee universal coverage through some mechanism or another, is there any reason to maintain the current legal regime with respect to medical damages?
Putting my conservative hat back on, I think I’d also be in favor of tort reform in a vacuum or, per Bradley, as part of some grand bipartisan bargain. I don’t really find the standard industry lines about excessive medical damages persuasive – as far as I’m concerned, an injured party’s right to a day in court ought to take precedence over companies’ need to limit financial liability. That said, I’m not sure if the justice system is equipped to determine equitable compensation for medical malpractice. One reason courts generally defer to the legislature is their limited ability for fact-finding; at least in theory, legislators are supposed to be better prepared to dig deep into a particular policy question. If Congress adopted certain guidelines for compensation and left the rest to specialized medical courts, I think that would be fairer than having the fate of aggrieved parties hinge on the competence of their attorney (not everyone can hire John Edwards) or the generosity of a particular judge or jury.
Howard Dean may be right to argue that adding trial lawyers to a long and growing list of health care opponents is not a politically savvy move. But it occurs to me that this Administration has expended precious little political capital taking on any industry groups, so perhaps it’s time to for a real special interests fight.
N.B. – Unlike my esteemed co-bloggers, I have not been following the health care debate very closely, so it’s quite possible I’ve misread this issue entirely. Any thoughts from our commenters? Our resident healthcare wonk? Our resident progressives? What about our resident (*gasp*) trial lawyer?