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Palin’s Weekend Wacky™

I think we can stop the speculation about her intentions. Sarah Palin wants to become an op-ed columnist; she has just issued another weekend Facebook screed. The subject this time: tort reform! Why isn’t Obama killing the lawyers with his death panels?!

But before I get around to debunking the usual Palin Trifecta™, consider the result of Public Policy Polling’s question: who do the birthers love? Perhaps not surprisingly, of all GOP contenders for 2012 Palin has the highest favorability rating with people who think Barack Obama’s middle name is Nicholae Carpathia.

The comments being unleashed on the polling firm’s blog are also predictable, offering a confused mishmash of false equivalencies and accusations of bias. To find that most birthers would vote for Palin is NOT to say that Palin is a birther — it just says that birthers, like Sarah, are idiots.

The sudden wave of those comments tells you her fan base is a rabid cult of personality. There are several high-traffic blogs dealing solely in Palin-related wingnuttery; all of them denounced the poll within hours or minutes of its posting, unleashing a wave of hateful commentary.

Which brings me back to Sarah’s Facebook message, because it — like her “death panels” nonsense — is bound to be echoed throughout the media in the week to come. And just as that sordid sophistry was allowed to run free without fact-checking, so might this one. Here, then, are some inconvenient facts:

  • A very small number of physicians is responsible for an outsized number of malpractice cases.
  • Evidence suggests more than 100,000 Americans die each year from medical malpractice, most of which could be eliminated through electronic records and better physician access to information.
  • According to The Medical Malpractice Myth, when you add up legal fees, insurance costs, and payouts, malpractice suits account for less than 0.5% of all health-care spending.
  • A Harvard study found that very few malpractice victims actually sue, while almost all frivolous suits are thrown out of court.
  • Awards in jury verdicts are usually higher than awards in bench verdicts, but are much more likely to go against the plaintiff.
  • In state after state after state, there is absolutely NO correlation between the rising cost of malpractice insurance and the number of malpractice lawsuits. In other words, lawsuits are not the reason for doctors’ rising insurance rates.
At Salon, Ezra Klein looked at this issue three years ago:

A recent RAND study looked at the growth in malpractice awards between 1960 and 1999. “Our results are striking,” the research team concluded. “Not only do we show that real average awards have grown by less than real income over the 40 years in our sample, we also find that essentially all of this growth can be explained by changes in observable case characteristics and claimed economic losses.


Anesthesiologists used to get hit with the most malpractice lawsuits and some of the highest insurance premiums. Then in the late 1980s, the American Society of Anesthesiologists launched a project to analyze every claim ever brought against its members and develop new ways to reduce medical error. By 2002, the specialty had one of the highest safety ratings in the profession, and its average insurance premium plummeted to its 1985 level, bucking nationwide trends. (Emphasis mine)

Given all of that, what does Sarah have to say? Well, she accuses Obama of “completely ignoring” the issue of tort reform — which is strange, because he hasn’t been.

In closed-door talks, Mr. Obama has been making the case that reducing malpractice lawsuits — a goal of many doctors and Republicans — can help drive down health care costs, and should be considered as part of any health care overhaul, according to lawmakers of both parties, as well as A.M.A. officials. (Emphasis mine)

Palin’s sources for her essay include two op-eds: a Wall Street Journal article by Scott Gottlieb, a member of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative “think” tank; and a Washington Examiner column by Texas secessionist Governor Rick Perry lauding tort reform in his state.

She also includes a review of Texas tort reform in which a trial lawyer asserts that state went overboard with damage caps:

  • There are a few plaintiff friendly jurisdictions in lesser populated areas, but big city courts had few suits that did not involve medical error and “a legitimate bone to pick.”
  • Stay-at-home mothers, children and the elderly often don’t have enough income or proof of future income to qualify for significant economic damages. Thus the cap on noneconomic damages makes their cases too costly for plaintiffs lawyers to pursue.
  • The dramatic decrease in litigation takes away incentive for risk managers and others to ensure carefulness in medical care.
“If you want to save health care,” Sarah concludes, “let’s listen to our doctors. There should be no health care reform without legal reform. There can be no true health care reform without legal reform.”

Except there can, and there should be. Yet who can doubt the power of simplistic messaging over a base that’s immune to facts?

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  • EnCee Ess

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to this wackiness. My husband, a lawyer, has been seething for years over the notion that med mal insurance is forcing doctors out of communities and that caps are, therefore, the most efficient solution. Nevermind that the vast majority of potential lawsuits never happen. Nevermind that botched procedures can (and do) leave patients in need of monetary recoveries sufficient to pay for anything from subsequent procedures to costly in-home equipment and/or in-home healthcare workers for the rest of their lives. What does Palin propose such patients do if they win their suits but fail to recover enough to pay those expenses?

  • Matt Osborne

    EnCee Ess, thanks for visiting the blog. I'm sure your husband's not alone.

    Let's remember these people always transition from "frivolous lawsuits" to class action suits — which is really about shutting up the reformers to protect power and privilege.

  • GeoSolus

    I'll no doubt regret this question but, what's a birther?

  • Matt Osborne

    GeoSolus, a "birther" is someone who believes the president was born outside the United States.

  • Annette

    Claire McCaskill was asked about Tort Reform in one of her Town Halls the other day.. She replied to the questioner that we had passed Tort Reform in Missouri several years ago, while she was auditor and it had done not one bit of good, rates were still sky rocketing and there were still numerous uninsured and that Baby Blunt still had to cut Medicaid to the bone to help fund everything else while he was in office.. therefore Tort Reform helping was a myth.. she did a wonderful job of putting the RWNJ to rest.. One of her truly great moments…lol Too bad Sarah and the others didn't hear that part of it.

  • mary b

    "Given all of that, what does Sarah have to say? Well, she accuses Obama of "completely ignoring" the issue of tort reform — which is strange, because he hasn't been."

    First, Palin could not have written that op-ed. It has decent grammar.

    Second, Palin only wants Tort reform because she is/was/will be facing so many lawsuits herself.
    She doesn't do anything without her self interest involved.

    Third, we got a big, healthy dose of tort reform during the Bush regime.