Get off the bench and get in the (Supreme Court) game

Jun 01, 2010

Just like any run for office, urologists need to work to elect judicial candidates whose philosophy on medical malpractice caps reflects their own.

When people think about elections, what is the first thing that comes to their mind? Presidential, and the voter turnout proves it. In 2000, 2004, and 2008, voter turnout was consistently over 50%. It indicates not only the importance of the position, but also that people want to be a part of the process that will set the direction of the country for the next 4 years.

As you may already know, state Supreme Courts have appellate jurisdiction over all state courts, while also possessing the power to determine which appeals to hear. Supreme Courts may also hear original actions cases that have not been heard in a lower court if the justices believe that a case might set legal precedence. Most important for urology, state Supreme Courts have tremendous influence over whether or not state laws are constitutional. As seen recently in the national media, a few state courts have moved front and center in interpreting whether or not caps on non-economic damages are constitutional.

Legislatures first started enacting medical malpractice damage caps when California passed its cap in 1975. Many states, including Georgia and Illinois, have followed California’s lead and capped recoveries specifically on medical malpractice cases. AACU believes the traditional medical tort system no longer works and that caps need to be in place. Without these caps, inequities and inefficiencies negatively affect the cost and quality of health care in America. But most important, the practice of defensive medicine as a means of reducing or avoiding tort liability is a major contributor to health care costs. State caps are a necessary and reasonable solution to these problems.

Until recently, Georgia and Illinois were two states that had these necessary caps. Georgia had a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages, in place since 2005. That same year, Illinois enacted a $500,000 limit on non-economic damages for a provider. However, the popularly elected state Supreme Court in both states ruled their respective caps unconstitutional.

So what can urologists and physicians in general do about courts that make such changes? Well, you could build a time machine and go back about 20 years. Many of these justices have held their seat on the bench for the past two decades. But since that is impossible, get active in judicial races, especially races for your state’s Supreme Court.

Just like any run for office, urologists need to work to elect judicial candidates whose philosophy on medical malpractice caps reflects their own. It is fundamental to have a state Supreme Court whose viewpoints reflect those of the urology and physician community. Just like the president, members of Congress, and state senators and representatives, judicial candidates need much of the same support from urologists. Judicial candidates need money to run their campaign. They need volunteers to help make phone calls to potential voters. They need people to be advocates on their behalf. They need all the support they can get in order to win.

Twenty-three states elect their state Supreme Court justices, and it is critical that urologists in these states get active in judicial politics. By no means should you take this column as a guarantee that by working to elect certain state Supreme Court, justices will always rule in favor of physicians. Nevertheless, urologists can no longer afford to ignore the importance of these races and their potential impact on your practice.

To learn more about the proposed direct billing legislation in Tennessee and Washington, or how this legislation might affect the practices in your state, please visit AACU's Action Center today at www.aacuweb.org

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