Friday, July 31, 2009

McConnell's Augean Heathcare Diligence

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is to be applauded for his diligence on healthcare reform. Nearly daily Sen. McConnell takes to the Senate floor to lead the Republican opposition to President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation, despite knowing the GOP is just spectating. His Augean tenacity is to be admired and some of the points he makes are valid.

While many of the healthcare reform proposals the GOP has offered are tired, recycled talking points, there remains a speck of potential in them because congressional Democrats are manhandling Pres. Obama’s healthcare reform objective. Herein is where the hope resides for the Republican Party. By handing off the legislative process to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the White House has allowed the Democrat’s progressives to veer hard left. Like Homer Simpson at an all you can eat buffet, these Democrats are loading the American taxpayer’s plate in a way that will choke them off. This could prove to be the GOP’s salvation if they can artfully apply a Heimlich-like maneuver to the garroted taxpayer.

The fact that Pres. Obama campaigned on the danger of special interests, lobbyists in particularly, can quickly become a chink in the President’s popularity armor that congressional Democrats are hoping carries the day. Unaddressed in the healthcare reform debate, particularly now that it is being referred to by the WH as healthcare insurance reform, is lawsuit abuse. The problem for the GOP is that by itself it presents as a drained, catchall GOP legislative solution designed to shrink the campaign contribution pockets of trial lawyers who give heavily to Democrats. Coupled with President Obama’s campaign theme, and the fact that it is unaddressed in the legislation being debated in Congress, the hypocrisy of it can become a potent campaign theme for Republicans in the 2010 elections.

Ask nearly any doctor and they will tell you the malpractice insurance policies they must buy to protect themselves from the probability of a lawsuit makes practicing medicine a financial burden. President Obama recognized this problem in his remarks to the American Medical Association in June, saying “I want to be honest with you. I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards, which I personally believe can be unfair to people who have been wrongfully harmed. But I personally think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patients' safety first, how to let doctors focus on practicing medicine, how to encourage a broader use of evidence-based guidelines.” However, congressional Democrats seem to have ignored the President’s sentiments, potentially to their detriment.

The GOP can get good mileage on this narrow topic if they can repeat the message that there is one special interest group that is off-limits in the healthcare reform debate because of their investment in the Democratic Party. From 2008 to now lawyers and law firms have contributed $195 million to Democratic candidates across the country. Republicans have received $57 million in the same period time from this group. That’s 3 ½ times that the Democrats receive over Republicans.

In 2007 the total cost of medical malpractice torts in the U.S. was $30.4 billion. Granted, some of these awards were surely deserved. However, abuse of medical malpractice torts happens and is a cause for a significant increase in healthcare costs. For Democrats not to address this is suspect given the amount of political contributions they receive from lawyers generally – and contrary to Pres. Obama’s stated intention. Clearly, trial attorneys are intent on protecting their ability to earn a handsome living from medical malpractice torts. After all, beneficiaries don’t kill the golden goose, and so the trial attorney lobby is busy fending off any notion that tort reform should be part of the legislation.

With 81 percent of Americans believing that some form of medical malpractice tort reform is needed (24% somewhat agree, 54% strongly agree) the GOP should continue to mine this predisposition among voters to make the party relevant in the debate, and in turn perhaps relevant at the polls in 2010. But in doing so, the GOP should also formulate a counter proposal replete with costs, as Red Elephant has previously posited. GOP opposition that lacks a plan including a price tag will only result in voters dismissing Republicans as obstructionist whiners.

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