Was Dan Quayle Right?

Several months ago, the Atlantic Monthly magazine ran an article called "Dan Quayle Was Right." It was referring to Quayle's infamous speech on family values. But it could just as well have been referring to his speech before the American Bar Association-when he chastised lawyers for encouraging litigation and driving up costs on everything from car repair to health care. Health-care reform is being hotly debated today. But where is Dan Quayle when you need him? Today more than ever we need someone pointing out the connection between lawsuits and rising health-care costs. Multimillion-dollar personal injury awards are literally driving some physicians out of practice. The legal proceedings alone exact a high price. One of my own physicians was recently cleared in a malpractice case, but only after it had eaten up weeks of his time. The risk of lawsuits multiplies the cost of insurance. In some states, malpractice insurance runs as high as $100,000 a year. Billions of additional dollars are spent on "defensive medicine"-tests and procedures that do not benefit the patient but act as a safeguard against potential lawsuits. A 1991 study by the American Medical Association found that 84 percent of U.S doctors perform redundant and unnecessary tests to avoid malpractice suits. I ran into this myself recently when my doctor put me through a battery of stress tests. "Are all these tests really necessary?" I asked. "No," my doctor said, "but I'm forced to administer them to forestall any possible charges of negligence." All these expenses are passed on to you and me as higher fees. Clearly, we cannot get serious about health-care reform unless we also get serious about legal reform. President Clinton's health plan does propose some measures designed to limit litigation. It calls for medical specialists to act as gatekeepers to weed out frivolous lawsuits. It requires cases to be heard by arbitrators first, which may reduce the number of costly trials. But it does not limit damage awards-which means there's still an incentive for lawyers to turn every mistake into a malpractice suit, in the hope of a huge windfall. Can we hope for more substantial reform in the Clinton plan? Not likely. How much can we hope that an administration made up of lawyers will rein in their fellow lawyers? How much can we hope that the president will stand up to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which contributed more than $2 million to his campaign? With my own training in law, there's nothing that disturbs me more than seeing the legal system used as a tool for personal gain. The biblical purpose of the court system is to administer justice. But in our litigious society, lawyers are using the courts to go after the health industry for their own enrichment-to dig into "deep pockets." The reality, of course, is that they're digging into my pocket and yours. Misuse of the legal system leads to higher health costs for every American. We really need to hold the administration's feet to the fire on this one. The lawyers who are running the government ought to leave health reform alone . . . unless they're equally willing to tackle legal reform.


Chuck Colson



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