Sen. Durbin's plan to put doctors on life support

The Madison County Record Sep. 12, 2010, 5:00pm

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin knows on which side his bread is buttered. He knows that trial lawyers contribute more to election campaigns than any other professional group and that most of the moolah goes to Democratic candidates.

He knows that lawyers have contributed $3.6 million to his political war chest and that his top two donors are plaintiff's firms.

To show his appreciation, Sen. Durbin repeatedly has supported proposed legislation to give plaintiffs lawyers a generous tax break. When those efforts failed, he appealed directly to the Treasury Department for an administrative fix.

He did this on the sly, of course, but word got out – as it usually does – and now Sen. Durbin is sleazily silent about the special favor he sought for wealthy supporters.

One man's meat is another man's poison, and the American Medical Association doesn't like the idea of its members wasting away while the law lobby gorges on their carcass. Doctors obliged to pay high insurance premiums and spend thousands of dollars defending themselves against dubious claims of malpractice have a visceral reaction to the prospect of tax breaks for plaintiffs attorneys.

The AMA and 90 other medical organizations sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to let him know clearly how they feel about Tricky Dick's suggested tax dispensation.

"Such a change is estimated to cost taxpayers over $1.5 billion and could act as a financial incentive for trial attorneys to file less meritorious lawsuits against physicians and other health care providers," the letter said. "Even though a substantial majority of claims are dropped or decided in favor of physicians, the cost of defending against meritless claims averages over $22,000. This leads to increased costs for physicians and patients. . . ."

Former AMA President James Rohack concluded, "Any change to the tax code that encourages more lawsuits is a step in the wrong direction for our health care system."

We want to see if, and how, Sen. Durbin responds.

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