At some point within the past several years, the single most important issue involving the country's healthcare crisis for some physicians became tort reform -- the capping of punitive damages for pain and suffering in malpractice cases.
The rising rates of malpractice insurance have forced many of us to either give up the practice of medicine or to move practices to another state. Some states have no neurosurgeons or lack specialist coverage for their trauma centers. In some states, a woman cannot find a physician within hundreds of miles to deliver her baby. Tort reform, instead of real malpractice reform and a real solution to the healthcare crisis, has become the battle cry for many physicians.
However, the malpractice crisis is merely a symptom of larger problems. I am tired of the endless amounts of paperwork and administrative hassles in my daily practice; I am embarrassed that my patients ask me for free drug samples because they can't afford to purchase their medicines; I am frustrated that my patients have to choose between medicines because they cannot afford all of them; and I want to be able to tell my child that the practice of medicine is a great career.
At some time in the recent past, the practice of medicine, this noble profession, lost its luster. The great honor and intellectual challenge of taking care of patients have been eroded by a failed healthcare system. Our profession is under siege, and while we must reform our medical malpractice system, we cannot be fooled into believing that setting caps on damages is the panacea. California has had caps for more than 10 years, yet many physicians in California are chronically unhappy with the practice of medicine. The number of uninsured and the managed-care environment have made it one of the least desirable places to practice.
We need a president who is committed to fixing the healthcare system and who will restore the professionalism of the practice of medicine.
The health plan of John Kerry and John Edwards will cover almost all of the uninsured and provide affordable insurance to 95% of Americans, including nearly every child. It provides a real solution to the rising costs of prescription drugs.
It calls for a real decrease in administrative hassles with bonuses for technology development, an electronic medical record by the year 2008, bonuses for quality care, and support for stem cell research to help cure so many diseases.
It provides for a plan to reform the malpractice crisis by mandating that specialists review cases prior to a case going forward, mandating mediation before a case proceeds, mandating sanctions for frivolous lawsuits (three times and you are out for attorneys filing frivolous suits), state insurance reform that will hold the insurance companies accountable for their actions and punitive damages only for reckless indifference to life, intentional misconduct or gross negligence.
President Bush would like you to believe that tort reform is the solution to your practice woes. He wants to divert your attention away from the real issue of a healthcare system in crisis. He wants this to be about doctors vs. lawyers. Don't be fooled.
This election is about improving the way we practice medicine by providing a real solution to fix a broken healthcare system. This election is about wanting to once again encourage our children to become physicians. Kerry and Edwards have a real plan to reshape the healthcare delivery system that will bring back professionalism to medicine and a real plan to reform the malpractice crisis.
Jon Cohen, M.D., is chief medical officer of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and a healthcare adviser to the Kerry campaign.