In the rush to restrict our
legal rights, some politicians are forgetting that they serve
all the people, not just the powerful, and many doctors are
abandoning their duty to be advocates for patients. All this is
at the bidding of a medical establishment that wants privileges
no one else in America has -- or should have.
Case in point: Dr. Lewis
Stocks, who became the poster child for medical malpractice
liability caps in March when he told a newspaper that his
insurance rates had shot up 325 percent despite being free of
The story was supposed to make
the case for caps, which proponents say would lower insurance
rates by limiting what injured patients can recover for
non-economic damages, also known as human losses. Stocks'
supposed plight struck many as unbelievably outrageous.
Unbelievable turned out to be
the right word. After The News & Observer reported his
claim, injured patients brought forward a different story. The
paper discovered that Stocks has been sued nine times and
admitted to negligence in three cases. In one case, Stocks'
The Stocks case reveals a
medical establishment that's ignoring the facts and pressuring
politicians to restrict patients' rights with its
hysteria-driven push for caps. The N.C. Medical Society, which
directed reporters to Stocks in the first place, even says
malpractice liability has put our state "on the brink of
In fact, the sky isn't falling.
Doctors are flocking to, not fleeing, North Carolina. The number
of doctors here is growing twice as fast as the state's
population. This includes healthy growth in specialties such as
neurosurgery and OB/GYN.
At a rally in Raleigh,
politicians and doctors declared that caps have worked in
California, ignoring the fact that after the enactment of caps,
premiums shot to an all-time high. Insurance reform finally
lowered California's rates.
One thing we should all agree
on is the value of accountability. If I run a stop sign and hit
someone, I have to pay for my mistake. A jury of my peers will
decide what I should pay. The medical establishment wants to be
above all that. It wants the same cap on recovery for human
losses in all cases, no matter what damage is done to an
individual patient. It wants a cap that would not even increase
The dual messages are clear.
First, injured patients -- especially retirees, homemakers and
children, all of whom cannot prove lost income -- are on their
own. Second, the medical establishment believes North
Carolinians aren't smart enough to sit on a jury and make
A proposal in the N.C. House
would go further. In addition to pushing caps, the bill would
hide from consumers some important information on nursing homes.
You couldn't find out if a home is safe. And if something
terrible happened to mom at a home, you couldn't use state
inspection reports -- funded by you as a taxpayer -- to make
your case in court.
Hiding information isn't new
for the medical establishment. Right now, if you as a consumer
want to check a doctor's record on malpractice, there's no
simple way to do it. But checking would be a good idea: When it
comes to disciplining doctors, the N.C. Medical Board ranks 45th
in the country, according to consumer group Public Citizen.
There are ways far superior to
caps and secrecy to ensure access to quality health care. The
N.C. Coalition for Patients' Rights supports legislation to
provide greater access to information, enact insurance reforms
and offer tax credits to health-care providers in under-served
The Coalition is also committed
to protecting the rights of injured patients -- like those that
Dr. Lewis Stocks admitted he treated with negligence and then
apparently forgot when the N.C. Medical Society put him in front
of the press.
Morgan Marion Smith is coordinator
of North Carolina Coalition for Patients' Rights.