Ever since Republicans gained full control of Congress 6 months ago, Big Business has found a number of ways to manipulate the law in its favor. In February, the National Rifle Association (NRA) succeeded in repealing gun control measures for people with mental illness. April brought the collapse of privacy laws by top Internet providers.
Just last month came business lobbyists’ latest money-grubbing move: drafting a new medical malpractice bill that would make it difficult for victims to sue doctors and impossible to collect non-economic damages over $250,000.
While the bill is currently stalled in the Senate, the chances of it passing or not remain unclear. One thing to point out? What this bill has in common with previous industry measures is frightening: None of these business-driven measures are written or passed with any public input.
The Current State of Legislature
When House lawmakers voted to approve bill H.R. 1215, a bill that plainly imposes limits on justice for negligent healthcare, patient safety advocates were outraged to see their opposing views disregarded. Indeed, while it is not uncommon for industry lobbyists to invest in and help draft tort reform, the bill moved quickly through the House without a single public hearing.
This being the latest in a series of political victories for lobbyists, it’s clear that Republicans are becoming more impervious to public opposition. Yet more disturbing, legal experts remark, is the fact that lobbyists have grown outspoken in taking credit for political victories. At the same time as pledging their dedication to patient welfare, doctors and their insurers are proud of their legal achievements – and ready to boast about them.
“This is a reflection of the new Trump, in-your-face era,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a nonpartisan scholar and author of numerous studies on Congress. “The way it’s supposed to work is you meet with outside groups that would be affected by it. You hold hearings, but you write the bills.”
Instead, those most in danger of the bill’s consequences are denied their day in court. Nursing home residents subject to horrific abuse (who only recently were also left vulnerable to forced arbitration) will be dismissed. Families fighting birth injury claims will be ineligible for enough compensation to give their child the best possible quality of life. Every step of the way, and backed – and even encouraged – by Trump, lawmakers seem to be making everything easier for medical professionals and their stakeholders to walk free from accountability.
Corporate Control and the Downfall of American Healthcare
According to legal experts and certain Democrats, the speed and ease at which business-friendly bills progress is of huge concern. In the case of bill H.R. 1215, for example, the House Judiciary Committee passed the measure just 4 days after it was introduced by Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa), lead sponsor of the bill. The motion passed the House only 4 months later. For a bill to move forward so quickly, unaltered and untouched by public contribution, is rare.
“Large business groups are writing these bills,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). “This has got to stop.”
Crucially, it’s rarer still for lobbyists to make such open pronouncements of their involvement with drafting legislation. At least 3 lobbyists for medical malpractice law reform took credit for the role they played in the bill, while King applauded “very talented staff” for their support. And their excuse?
“I don’t think any of us would want to live in a society where all laws are imposed by regulators, a judge, a congress, a president,” said Richard E. Anderson, chairman and chief executive of The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurer. “We want to live in a society where the laws meet the needs of those they are meant to govern. Ideally, it should be a collaborative process in the context of the overall national interest.”
“Those they are meant to govern,” here, surely means the public. On the contrary, lobbyists’ eagerness to put their bottom line above people’s lives is blindingly obvious. They ran with the medical malpractice bill without a care in the world for patient safety – with a care, only, for an opportunity to maximize profits. The evidence is in King’s own justification for the lack of public hearings:
“I hear their complaints,” King said of critics. But, he added: “I just don’t want to have to ride that horse again. Let’s get ’er done.”