Ed Hershewe's guest column (Globe, Dec. 7) countered U.S. Rep. Blunt's call for limits on medical malpractice awards. His rationale for preventing such limits goes a long way to support many of the jokes about lawyers that are becoming increasingly popular.

For the sake of argument I will accept his flurry of statistics that reflects thousands of unnecessary deaths caused by substandard medical care in the United States. My question then becomes how do multimillion-dollar payments by insurance companies, of which probably 40 percent go directly into the pockets of lawyers, correct the problem of substandard care?

Deaths on highways caused by drunk drivers are probably much greater than those caused by medical malpractice. The approach over the past decade or so to correct this problem has been to increase the legal consequences of drunk driving through large fines and penalties (that are not paid by insurance companies but by the offenders themselves) and jail time. The number of alcohol-related driving deaths has decreased significantly as a result of such actions. Would Mr. Hershewe suggest that we should stop treating DUI's as a criminal justice issue and instead leave the penalties to civil courts? If only we would pay trial lawyers huge sums from insurance companies the DUI problem would be resolved. Another interesting statistic provided by Mr. Hershewe was that malpractice costs were only 3 percent of all health-care costs. This percentage is only for compensation to plaintiffs (as opposed to "victims" as they are called by the lawyer.) What about the cost of malpractice insurance as a percentage of total costs? What about the costs of unnecessary tests and procedures to protect doctors from the legal profession that waits with bated breath for the least excuse to sue for millions? He stated that 98,000 unnecessary deaths occur in hospitals each year. How does that number compare to the probably millions that enter hospitals and leave in better health or die despite the best efforts of the medical profession?

Any death caused by negligence on the part of the medical profession is a tragedy and every effort should be made to drive that number to as close to zero as practical. Again I wonder what the percentage would be of doctors causing death through negligence compared to the total number of doctors practicing. Whatever that percentage is, the goal should be to prevent every one of those incompetent health-care practitioners from practicing medicine and to require each one to pay out of his or her own pocket all fines penalties, awards, etc. In some cases I am also sure that significant jail time would be appropriate as well.

The manner in which we improve accountability in the medical profession and remove those individuals that do not practice to the standards required should first start with the profession itself. The American Medical Association should take the lead and stop saying the only problem is the trial lawyers. Legislation is also probably required. Do we have politicians that have the courage to face down the trial lawyers association and do what is right? Our current governor certainly has proven that he cannot. There are solutions to this increasingly serious problem. The only certainty in my mind is that trial lawyers and politicians such as Governor Holden will never find one that works.

Anson Burlingame resides in Joplin.

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