Medical Malpractice and the Politics of Healthcare

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto", January 26, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

Watch "Your World w/Cavuto" weekdays at 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: It's a good thing the president is not a lawyer, because he's going after them. The Bush administration wants to clamp down on all those malpractice suits (search).

What is the administration up to? Let’s ask Health and Human Services, secretary, Tommy Thompson.

Secretary, always a pleasure. Thank you for coming.

SECRETARY TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Neil, as always, a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me on your program.

CAVUTO: So this is going after lawyers?

THOMPSON: No, it is going after the frivolous lawsuits. It is going to hopefully allow for doctors and hospitals who pay really high malpractice insurance payments, are going to be able to see those premiums be held as sort of a status quo, a stabilized rate, instead of keeping going up. The rates are going up at an alarming rate. And as a result of that, a lot of good doctors are driven out of the practice.

They can’t make it, and they say, well, what is this use? And they can’t practice without it, so they walk away from their practice.

CAVUTO: Do you worry, Secretary, with the best of intentions, some doctors begin to get risky, maybe even sloppy, fearing that there is little punishment?

THOMPSON: No, absolutely not. Because a lot of states, like my home state of Wisconsin, the president’s home state of Texas, California has had a limit on non-economic damages for years. And those states continue to have good health practices, good health care. It is in those states that don’t have any limits that really have seen an alarming increase in premiums for liability insurance (search).

Such high premiums that a lot of doctors are forced to either make the decision of not having insurance or getting out of the practice. And that, to me, is just a very, a very terrible decision that some good doctors and good hospitals have to make.

CAVUTO: Secretary, you know a lot of people have debated this issue in the past and, invariably, the thing the trial attorneys always hold up is the one doctor who makes a mistake, takes out either the wrong limb or leaves sutures in a patient, those heinous cases that get people’s attention, and they say doctors like that, the bad ones, should pay and pay through the nose. And that always wins out. I’m never quite sure why, but that more emotional argument wins out.

How are you going to win yours?

THOMPSON: Well, I think just by pointing out the common sense facts. That there is a lot of states that have limits, and those states have good quality health care. There are many other ways to ferret out bad doctors and bad practitioners.

You have peer review in just about every state. You have your medical associations that review bad practices. You have many different ways to do it. Plus, you still allow for the court system to work.

All economic damages will continue to be paid. Loss of time, a loss of wages. And these type of things will be paid immediately in a lawsuit. It is just that it will be a cap on non-economic damages of pain and suffering of $250,000.

CAVUTO: Do you worry, Secretary, that let’s say John Edwards is the nominee of the Democrats, and of course a trial attorney by fame and gained a great deal of wealth through that.


CAVUTO: He always pits this against you guys are on the side of the big doctors. And he could say, even if he’s a big lawyer, the big doctors are more heinous. What do you say?

THOMPSON: Well, I say to anybody that will listen -- plus I’m an attorney -- I will say to them that there are some bad practitioners. There are bad lawyers, as there are bad doctors. There are bad TV producers. Any place that you go there are bad and good.

And what you have to do is you have to still have the court system set up to take care of that. You have peer reviews set up to do that. And I know the trial lawyers try to say, well, this is just helping out the insurance companies. That is absolutely not the case.

Frivolous lawsuits and high insurance premiums are driving good doctors, some good doctors out of practice. Arkansas is one of those states that has a very difficult time of having OBGYN doctors practice in that state because of the high liability insurance. And I would think that those individual expecting mothers would like to have a good doctor taking care of them instead of having high insurance premiums that drive those doctors out of practice.

CAVUTO: Secretary, it’s almost as bad as saying there are bad TV anchors out there. We don’t know where they are, but...

THOMPSON: I made very clear I wouldn’t say that, Neil, because we know there aren’t any such things.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary Tommy Thompson, in Washington, thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much, Neil.

Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, Inc.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.