The "real issue"

The Madison County Record Jun. 21, 2009, 5:47am

Even President Barack Obama, liberal Democrat and longtime friend of the lawsuit industry, has acknowledged the obvious: doctors don't perform efficiently when they see patients as plaintiffs.

Speaking to members of the American Medical Association in Chicago this week, Obama sent trial lawyers into orbit, noting the "real issue" of how medical malpractice lawsuits needlessly drive up health care costs.

"I recognize that it will be hard to make... changes if doctors feel like they are constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of lawsuits," Obama said. "Some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable. That's a real issue."

The practice is called "defensive medicine," and its one of the reasons health care costs more than it should in America. To be sure--it might be the most destructive one of all.

There's a real world effect to letting plaintiff's lawyers take target practice on our medical care providers. On our local micro-level, it drives our physicians to pick up stakes and head elsewhere--otherwise known as across the river-- where they might practice medicine in a less litigious atmosphere. On a national macro-level, as the president points out, the threat of lawsuits forces doctors to routinely-- if rationally-- order unnecessary and wasteful tests to protect their careers, keeping them at work in the hospital and out of court.

And who can blame them?

Elements of the trial bar can find a way. Obama's words unleashed a torrent of defensiveness by trial lawyers, insisting it is the doctors and health care executives, not the folks like them filing so many medical malpractice lawsuits, who deserve blame for soaring health care costs.

Now a battle quite familiar to the Metro-East has been set on a national stage: doctors versus lawyers. When it comes to reforming our health care system, whose priorities should take precedence?

That's an easy one.

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