MESSAGE POINT ARCHIVE
⇒FLASHBACK 1995. “The Clinton plan would have imposed sweeping changes… with consequences far greater than Congress could possibly consider...It represented a regulation-minded, top-down, centralized approach at a time when the world was moving toward decentralization and flexibility—and when the supposed health crisis was solving itself anyway. Or so goes the conventional wisdom… The more people learned about this plan, the less they liked it, and it finally died a natural and well-deserved death.”
“But suppose that what everyone knows is wrong.”
Excerpted from: A Triumph of Misinformation, by James Fallows, The Atlantic, January 1995
⇒Good hands? “The outcome of a battle between the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and state regulators could set a precedent for how future roof claims are handled after a hurricane…”
“The lifted shingle issue is not limited to TWIA,” said Alex Winslow, head of Texas Watch, …Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin “can either make sure these claims get paid or he can allow TWIA and the other insurance companies to keep denying them.”
“Policyholders say Hurricane Ike winds blew their shingles back, breaking the seals that keep them adhered to each other and that prevent water from leaking through.
But TWIA…doesn't consider loose shingles damaged. It also argues…policyholders must prove their shingles were sealed before Ike.”
“…the ultimate decision lies in Insurance Commissioner Geeslin's hands.”
Windstorm insurers, state regulators spar over shingles, By Purva Patel, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 5, 2009
⇒Malpractice-related hooey. “So while Texas patients lost significant legal rights and many unsafe health care providers are now unaccountable, rural communities that were exploited during the “tort reform” campaign have seen no improvement in access to physicians.”
Excerpted from: Medical Malpractice Myths Debunked TXs, California and Some Michigan Thrown In, www.poptort.com 9-15-09
⇒Barely merits discussion: “After reviewing thousands of patient records, medical researchers have estimated that only 2 to 3 percent of cases of medical negligence lead to a malpractice claim. For every notorious error — the teenager who died in North Carolina after being given the wrong blood type, the 39-year-old Massachusetts mother killed by a chemotherapy overdose, the newborn twins (children of the actor Dennis Quaid) given too much blood thinner — there are dozens more. You never hear about these other cases.”
“Medical errors happen more frequently here than in other rich countries, as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently found. Only a tiny share of victims receive compensation.”
Excerpted from: Medical Malpractice System Breeds More Waste by DAVID LEONHARDT, New York Times 9-23-09
⇒Cash - don’t leave home without it. “More and more consumers are getting to the cash register to find that their credit cards have been canceled without their knowledge. Consumers say that it is often embarrassing to have a card declined in front of friends and other customers, and that it is frustrating when customer service is able to confirm only that the card was canceled, but not why.”
Excerpted from: Cardholders Get Rude Surprise at the Register by Mary Pilon, Wall Street Journal 8-12-09
⇒McDreamy vs. Marcus Welby: Is the 'Cool' Factor Killing Healthcare? "All the sexy shows on TV are about ER work or surgeons,"…Whatever it may be. There is no Marcus Welby on TV — 'cause it's just not cool."
“Television aside, medical specialists cite an array of reasons why more medical students aspire to be Grey's Anatomy's McDreamy neurosurgeon…than the wise family practitioner [in Marcus Welby, MD]…”
“Longer days, lower pay, less prestige and more administrative headaches have turned doctors away in droves from family medicine, presumed to be the frontline for wellness and preventive-care programs…”
“The number of U.S. medical school students going into primary care has dropped 51.8% since 1997, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).”
Excerpted from: Doctor shortage looms as primary care loses its pull, By Janice Lloyd, USA TODAY 8-20-09
⇒Unacceptable. “And what about us—the patients? How does a nation that might close down a business for a single illness from a suspicious hamburger tolerate the carnage inflicted by our hospitals? And not just those 100,000 deaths. In April, a Wall Street Journal story suggested that blood clots following surgery or illness, the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the U.S., may kill nearly 200,000 patients per year. How did Americans learn to accept hundreds of thousands of deaths from minor medical mistakes as an inevitability?”
Excerpted: How American Health Care Killed My Father, The Atlantic by David Goldhill, September 2009
⇒Raw numbers. “Hispanic worker deaths increased from 533 in 1992 to 937 in 2007 — a 76% jump. In the same period, total fatalities in all jobs nationwide… The 2007 tally, the latest available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, followed a record 990 Hispanic deaths in 2006.”
“Jose Omar Puerto, 19, from Honduras, was repairing a roof on an Austin apartment building in 2007 when his aluminum ladder became entangled in electrical wires. He was electrocuted and killed, his sister, Marta Puerto, said.”
“His company paid for the funeral and the body's return to Honduras, she said. The family received no further compensation.”
Excerpted from: Hispanic worker deaths up 76% since 1992, by Rick Jervis, USA TODAY, July 20, 2009
⇒Dentophobia on steroids. “An American-Statesman review of disciplinary records found that despite years of critical audits and complaints of lax oversight, the dental board… is less likely to take disciplinary action, slower to act and far less likely to impose the most severe sanction, loss of a license, than the state medical board.”
“The dental board…routinely suspends dentists' licenses, then probates those suspensions in full…Since January 2007, probated suspensions have been meted out to dentists who have a license revoked in another state or who plead guilty to crimes such as Medicaid fraud or assault.”
“…the dental board requires members of the public to file an open records request to see a dentist's disciplinary record.”
Excerpted from: Oversight of dentists lacks strength, by Mary Ann Roser, Austin American Statesman, July 20, 2009
⇒The Gag Reflex. "Until recently, patients whose doctors kept them waiting for hours without explanation, brushed off their questions or seemed downright incompetent had little recourse…In the past five years more than 40 Web sites…have begun reviewing physicians…”
“As a defensive measure, some physicians are requiring patients to sign broad agreements that prohibit online postings or commentary in any media outlet "without prior written consent."
"We get threatened with lawsuits on a pretty much weekly basis," he said [John Swapceinski, a founder of RateMDs.com]”
“Some doctors advocate an aggressive response…Medical Justice, a company that for a fee starting at $495 provides sample privacy agreements and monitors online comments for its 2,000 members.”
Excerpted from: Doctor's Orders, Want Treatment? Just Sign This No-Complaint Contract, By Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post, 7-21-09
⇒What goes up – must come down. NOT! "Here we go again. As we enter another hurricane season, State Farm announced it plans to raise its homeowners rates by as much as 8.5 percent. The insurer raised rates by 2.8 percent last year. Not to be outdone, Allstate has said it will raise rates by an average of 5.5 percent statewide, with bigger hikes in coastal areas.”
“This is the Ike backlash. Homeowners who dared to use the policies they paid for to settle hurricane damage last year are now taking it in the premiums.”
“The poor-mouthing by insurers grows as tiresome as the perennial rate hikes…if an insurance company can't adequately protect itself from risk, do you really want to buy a policy from them?”
Excerpted from: Loren Steffy - Insurance rate hike? Must be hurricane season,
Houston Chronicle, 7-16-09
⇒A damning portrait. “Congressional committees heard a lot this month about the devious schemes used by health insurance companies to drop or shortchange sick patients.’
“A House oversight subcommittee took a close look at…“rescission,” in which insurance companies cancel coverage for some sick policyholders rather than pay an expensive claim.…When executives for the three companies were asked if they would…limit rescissions to cases where the policyholder deliberately lied on an application, all said they would not.”
“…the Senate Commerce Committee was getting an earful from a former head of corporate communications for Cigna…He charged that the industry deliberately confuses its customers…“dump the sick” through rescissions and by purging small businesses whose employees’ claims exceed what underwriters expected.”
Editorial: Insurance Company Schemes, The New York Times, June 29, 2009
⇒Target practice. “[Dr. Gary D. Kao] whom regulators accuse of mishandling scores of radioactive seed implants at the Philadelphia veterans’ hospital told a Congressional panel…he “could have done better” with some implants, his patients over all received effective treatment for their prostate cancer.’
“…investigators for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and V.A. officials had identified Dr. Kao as the doctor who did all but a handful of the …92 substandard seed implants out of 116 cases...”
“An N.R.C. consultant…concluded that “erratic seed placement caused a number of cases to have elevated doses to the rectum, bladder or perineum.”…Dr. Kao confirmed that he had on occasion implanted seeds in the bladder.”
“Did you notify the patient?” Mr. Specter [Senator Arlen Specter] asked.”
“No, sir,” Dr. Kao replied.”
Excerpted from: Oncologist Defends His Work at a V.A. Hospital By WALT BOGDANICH, New York Times 6-30-09
⇒ $12 an hour for every hour you survive. "A construction worker dies in Texas every 2 1/2 days. No other state in the country has as many construction-related deaths: 142 fatalities were reported in 2007…according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent statistics. The causes are far from mysterious: lax enforcement of labor and safety regulations, too many overtime hours without rest breaks and a lack of safety training and equipment.
"Despite its construction boom, Texas has the second lowest number of OSHA inspectors in the nation… According to a 2008 report by the AFL-CIO, Death on the Job, it would take the 77 OSHA inspectors in Texas 144 years to visit every workplace in the state at least once."
Excerpted from: Dying to Build - Why Texas is the deadliest state for construction workers by Melissa del Bosque, Texas Observer June 12-2009
⇒Hank’s larcenous anger issues. “Former AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg admitted…he was angry about losing his job in 2005, but defended taking over a retirement bonus fund that AIG is trying to recover in federal court.”
"Yes, I was angry," said Greenberg, responding to a question from AIG's lawyer Theodore Wells. Wells argued…that Greenberg...raided an AIG retirement program [Starr] holding $4.3 billion in stock because he was angry about losing his job…”
“The lawsuit against Greenberg and Starr involves a fund created in 1970…Its value grew to $4.3 billion…The fund was described…by Greenberg before 2005 as a retirement bonus fund for select…employees…a "kind of golden handcuffs" given to members of "the inner club.”
“…AIG has received $182 billion in federal aid…AIG said if it can reclaim the $4.3 billion the money would help it pay back the government.”
Excerpted from: AIG ex-CEO says he was 'angry' about losing job in '05 by MADLEN READ, Associated Press 6-17-09
⇒The cost of getting paid. “Insurance administration costs can take a big bite out of a practice’s revenue. A recent Weill Cornell Medical College study found that a third of the money received by primary care physicians pays for interactions between a doctor’s practice and patients’ health plans.”
Excerpted from: If All Doctors Had More Time to Listen, By JULIE WEED, New York Times 6-7-09
⇒Advice to the insured: Don’t get sick. “The study [by Harvard University, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Medicine] found that medical bills, plus related problems such as lost wages for the ill and their caregivers, contributed to 62% of all bankruptcies filed in 2007.”
“Medical insurance isn't much help, either. About 78% of bankruptcy filers burdened by healthcare expenses were insured…”
"Health insurance is not a guarantee that illness won't bankrupt you," said Steffie Woolhandler, one of the authors…
…"So you can be insured and still end up with big bills.…even if you have good insurance through your employer, you can lose it if you get sick and can't work."
“Most people who filed medical-related bankruptcies "were solidly middle class before financial disaster hit," the study says. Two-thirds were homeowners, and most had gone to college.”
Excerpted from: Medical bills play a role in 62% of bankruptcies, study says, By Lisa Girion,
Los Angeles Times 6-4-2009
⇒Medicine’s Culture War. “I went to dinner with six McAllen doctors…Some were dubious when I told them that McAllen was the country’s most expensive place for health care...costs have grown faster than any other market…ultimately soaring by more than ten thousand dollars per person.”
“Maybe the service is better here,” the cardiologist suggested….”
“Others were skeptical. “I don’t think that explains the costs he’s talking about,” the general surgeon said.”
“It’s malpractice,” a family physician said.”
“McAllen is legal hell,” the cardiologist agreed…That explanation puzzled me…Texas passed a tough malpractice law…Didn’t lawsuits go down?”
“Practically to zero,” the cardiologist admitted.”
“Come on,” the general surgeon finally said. “We all know these arguments are bullshit. There is overutilization here, pure and simple.” Doctors, he said, were racking up charges with extra tests, services, and procedures…“the way to practice medicine has changed completely. Before, it was about how to do a good job. Now it is about ‘How much will you benefit?”
Excerpted from: The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care, by Atul Gawande The New Yorker, June 1, 2009
⇒Pick your adjective: PREVENTABLE or NEEDLESS or AVOIDABLE. “Despite a decade of promises, little has been done to fix the problem of preventable medical errors that kill nearly 98,000 people in the United States each year…”
“Consumers Union… said lawmakers largely have failed to enact patient safety reforms recommended by a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine or IOM that found that medical errors cost the United States $17 billion to $29 billion a year.”
“…the group now projects that preventable medical errors now account for more than 100,000 deaths each year…”
Excerpted from: U.S. group sees little progress on medical errors, Reuters 5-19-09
⇒The Fairness of Options. “Seems to me that if arbitration is indeed fair to everyone, it shouldn't have to be crammed down consumers' throats. Arbitration should be offered as a cost-effective and relatively speedy alternative to litigation. But it should be just one option available, just as filing a lawsuit should be an option.”
Excerpted from: Column - Sue the company? Most contracts force consumers to forfeit that right, David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times, 5-3-09
⇒A Never-Ending Scandal, er, Story "A senior member [Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-MD] of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wants his panel to investigate whether insurance giant AIG Inc. and other providers have unnecessarily denied and delayed costly medical treatment for civilian contractors injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The letter cited media reports last week disclosing that insurance companies routinely challenged serious injury claims of civilian workers returning from the war zones. Private contractors have been forced to battle for basic medical needs…
Last year, the government reform committee determined that AIG had collected $1.3 billion in premiums on the insurance between 2002 and 2007, while it had paid out about $800 million -- leaving the company with a nearly 40% profit. The Pentagon has recently begun an inquiry into whether such premiums can be lowered."
Excerpted from: AIG faces inquiry over medical care for U.S. contractors, Los Angeles Times By T. Christian Miller 4-22-09
⇒Turning the tables: Begging for comfort. “Health insurance companies…offered to reduce rates for millions of women and accept close federal regulation…”
“The industry is trying to head off creation of a government health plan that would compete with them to enroll middle-class workers and their families.”
"We are not asking people to trust us, we are asking people to trust government," Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, told a Senate panel…”
“Instead of a government plan as a check on their industry, insurers are offering to accept a series of consumer protections they contend would add up to a fairer marketplace and cut into the…50 million uninsured.”
"We are comfortable with that," Ignagni told the Senate Finance Committee…”
“Insurers have already offered to stop denying coverage to sick people and…the practice of charging higher premiums to those with a history of health problems. In exchange, the industry wants Congress to require all Americans to carry health insurance…”
Excerpted from: Health insurers ask gov't to police their industry, By Ricardo Alonso Zaldivar, Erica Werner contributed to this report, The Associated Press, 5-5-09
⇒This Just In: Damage Caps Have NOT Brought Down Healthcare Costs for Consumers. Film at 11. “Their [a team at the University of Alabama] survey of studies related to malpractice insurance, defensive medicine and consumer health insurance premiums looked at 27 states with limits on non-economic damages…”
“Their conclusion – ‘Tort reforms have not led to health care cost savings for consumers’…”
"Tort reform is not a panacea for health care costs," said Morrisey” [Michael Morrisey, professor of health economics/health insurance and director of Lister Hill Center for Health Policy]
“But it's important to keep in mind who gains and who loses…As Morrisey and his colleagues put it: "The results of this study suggest that there are no insurance premium savings that accrue to consumers. Are there other benefits to consumers? If these cannot be identified, it is difficult to see a justification for the loss of legal rights."
Excerpted from: Malpractice damage caps not a cure for high health care costs by Jim Landers (Business Columnist), Dallas Morning News, April 21, 2009
⇒You Are What You Eat? Ewwwww. “After decades of steady progress, the safety of the nation’s food supply has not improved over the past three years… The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demonstrates that the nation’s food safety system, created when most foods were grown, prepared and consumed locally, needs a thorough overhaul to regulate an increasingly global food industry, top government health officials said Thursday.”
“Roughly 76 million people in the United States suffer foodborne illnesses each year, 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die, according to C.D.C. estimates. Children younger than 4 are sickened by food more than those in any other age group….”
Excerpted from: U.S. Food Safety No Longer Improving By GARDINER HARRIS,
NY Times 4-9-09
⇒ Much ado about nothing. “A special government program to improve worker safety in hazardous industries rarely fulfilled its promise, a Labor Department audit concluded… over the past six years, dozens of deaths occurred at firms that should have been subjected to much tighter federal safety enforcement.”
“The report was the first detailed appraisal of a highly touted Bush administration initiative that called for [OSHA] to devote attention and resources to improving safety at companies with a troubled history of job-related fatalities. The study found that officials failed to gather needed data, conducted uneven inspections and enforcement, and sometimes failed to discern repeat fatalities because records misspelled the companies' names or failed to notice when two subsidiaries with the same owner were involved.”
Excerpted from: Initiative On Worker Safety Gets Poor Marks, Washington Post by R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post April 2, 2009
⇒ I was the CEO for a mere 40 years, but it's not my fault. “The man who built failed insurer American International Group Inc...is bracing for tough questioning on Capitol Hill.”
“Maurice "Hank" Greenberg is appearing before the House Oversight Committee…”
“Greenberg is expected to tell the panel he bears no responsibility for AIG's downfall, despite his having served as chief executive for nearly four decades, until March 2005.”
Excerpted from: Former AIG CEO criticizes successors, bailout, by Daniel Wagner, Associated Press 4-2-09
⇒ Yours is frivolous – mine is good business. “As the economy melts down, even Texas’ tort warriors and their kin are turning to civil courts to recover losses from ruined financial firms. Dallas energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens—a $1 million donor to Texans for Lawsuit Reform—filed a lawsuit last October to recoup $60 million from bankrupt Lehman Brothers.
"In January, a family foundation affiliated with a Texas tort-reform giant filed a $1.8 million claim against hammered Dallas hedge fund Highland Capital Management LP, depicting the foundation as a victim of deceit. Amarillo’s Mary E. Bivins Foundation is named for the great-grandmother of former Republican state Sen. Teel Bivins… In 1995, then-Sen. Bivins authored or co-authored each of the four major tort-restriction bills that then-Gov. George W. Bush signed into law.”
Excerpted from: Tort Warriors Resort to Litigation by Andrew Wheat,
The Texas Observer 3-20-09 (Scroll down towards the bottom)
⇒ Playing in piles of vermiculite. "A medical expert testifying Tuesday in the W.R. Grace trial described his disbelief when, arriving in Libby [Montana] 10 years ago, he found that people who had never worked at Grace’s vermiculite mine were dying from asbestos-related disease.”
“To see an individual who had died of asbestos-related disease who was not a worker was unheard of,” said Dr. Aubrey Miller, a physician and investigator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “
“Grace had information about the asbestos, about the nature of the asbestos to become airborne, they had information about health effects on their workers and they had information about animal studies where the animals were being exposed to the same materials as the workers,” Miller said.”
Excerpted from: Expert calls extent of Libby illnesses ‘unheard of’, Associated Press 3-10-09
⇒ Surly physician? Misdiagnosis? Keep it to yourself. “Some doctors have started fighting back against ugly Internet reviews by asking patients to abide by what are effectively gag orders that bar them from posting negative comments online.”
“Medical Justice…For a fee, it provides doctors with a standardized waiver agreement. Patients who sign agree not to post online comments about the doctor, "his expertise and/or treatment."
Doctors are notified when a negative rating appears on a Web site… physicians can use the signed waivers to get the sites to remove offending opinion.”
Excerpted from: Docs seek gag orders to stop patients' reviews By LINDSEY TANNER, Associated Press 3-3-09.
⇒ Oh no you didn’t! “The former chief executive officer [Maurice "Hank" Greenberg1] of American International Group Inc. on Monday sued the company he led for 38 years, saying AIG misled investors about its exposure to subprime mortgages.”
“…claimed in papers filed in federal court in Manhattan Monday that the company… has ruined his fortune by lying about its financial health.”
“…a company spokeswoman, said: "We believe the suit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously."
“Greenberg was forced out of AIG amidst a controversy in spring 2005 when the company restated its financial statements for the previous five years, acknowledging accounting improprieties, including 'improper or inappropriate transactions.'"
Excerpted from: Former AIG CEO sues the company in NY, saying AIG took his fortune through deceit, Associated Press 3-3-09
⇒Tragically Ironic. February 24, 2004 “The chairman (Maurice R. Greenberg) of American International Group…called lawyers opposed to tort reform "terrorists"…
“Greenberg used graphic language as he railed against an American tort system…. He accused plaintiff's lawyers of venue shopping… "You know you're going to get raped...when you appear there," Greenberg said.”
"Our legal tort system is out of control," he said, estimating class-action lawsuits shave 2 percent off the U.S. gross domestic product every year. "It's a blight on the country." 1
February 19, 2009 “Former American International Group Inc. chairman Maurice R. Greenberg criticized the Obama administration’s steps to restrict executive compensation for firms that receive federal aid….”
“What kind of people are you going to get for $500,000? Anyone with real talent will just go elsewhere,” Mr. Greenberg told an audience in New York Thursday…“The best managers will move to private companies that are not receiving government funds, and therefore do not face pay caps,” he said.”
“Mr. Greenberg—who resigned as chairman and CEO of AIG in 2005 amid investigations of its accounting practices...” 2
February 23, 2009 “The American International Group, the battered insurance giant that is now effectively majority-owned by the federal government, is in talks to receive more government aid as it prepares to record another giant loss.” 3
1 Excerpted from: AIG Chief Calls Some Lawyers 'Terrorists' By Tim McLaughlin, Reuters 2-24-09
2 Excerpted from: Greenberg slams pay cap plan, AIG bailout By Colleen McCarthy, Business Insurance 2-19-09
3 Excerpted from: A.I.G. to Seek More Government Aid, The New York Times 2-23-09
⇒Finger-pointing syndrom. "Nearly 80% of companies describe their firms as not ready for a government or regulatory investigation, according to a new Deloitte Financial Advisory Services online survey of 1,100 executives.”
“Only 20.8% of executives say their companies are "very ready" for a government investigation despite the fact that 26.5% had been subject to a government probe during the past two years.”
“…executives disagree on the chain of responsibility for such investigations. The executives placed responsibility on several entities, with 20.9% naming internal audit committees, 18.6% fingering general counsel and 5.6% citing the board of directors or audit committee.”
Excerpted from: Survey: 80% of companies are not ready for government or regulatory investigations by Sheri Qualters, National Law Journal Feb. 18, 2009. Access to this article requires free registration ot the NLJ website.
⇒Oh...I get it! All you do is tweak the math to increase your net worth. “Allstate, the big insurer, last week declared that despite unprecedented trouble in the markets, it remains financially strong.”
“But tucked deep inside a company report is evidence that Allstate changed its bookkeeping last year in ways that improve its financial appearance.”
“One accounting change added $347 million. Another delivered a year-end boost of $365 million.”
Excerpted from: Insurers' Finances Clouded by Bookkeeping Changes By David S. Hilzenrath, Washington Post, February 6, 2009
⇒Alarming! Or is it just me? “We need to set a new goal for law -- to define an open area of free choice. This requires judges and legislatures to affirmatively assert social norms of what's reasonable and what's not.”
Excerpted from: How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless, Op-ed by Philip K. Howard, Wall Street Journal, Jan 26, 2009
⇒Directions: Apply Pressure and Wait. “Nine dissident scientists at the Food and Drug Administration who say they were forced to approve high-risk medical devices sent a letter to President Obama on Monday stating that agency officials might have made them the targets of a criminal investigation into their complaints.”
“It has been brought to our attention that F.D.A. management may have just recently ordered the F.D.A. Office of Criminal Investigations (O.C.I.) to investigate us rather than the managers who have engaged in wrongdoing!” states the letter…”
“The letter is the latest escalation in a highly unusual internal battle… The nine scientists have banded together and charged that agency officials have acted illegally and that patients are routinely put at risk from high-risk medical devices that are approved for sale even though manufacturers have never proved that the products are either safe or effective.”
Excerpted from: Dissidents at F.D.A. Complain of Inquiry, By Gardiner Harris New York Times 1-28-09
⇒Polluters, Go Sit in the Corner. “Five years after a state auditor determined that the state's main environmental regulatory and permitting office did little to penalize polluters, critics say shortcomings remain in making violators pay.”
“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality still caps penalties on polluters at $10,000 for each violation per day, regardless of its severity. And it still hasn't decided whether a history of violations should warrant harsher penalties.”
“By its own reckoning, the commission conceives of the penalties it levies against polluters as a kind of schoolmarmish scold.”
Excerpted from: Do businesses pay for pollution? By Asher Price, Austin American Statesman, January 18, 2009
⇒Climate change. “With a less-friendly political climate and a downright hostile economic climate, U.S. property/casualty insurers are anticipating renewed legislative and regulatory battles in the states in 2009.”
“It is early for determining which states will see the most significant actions on these issues, but the overall trend is one of "defense, defense, defense," said Joe Thesing, state affairs director for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. “
Excerpted from: Insurers Anticipate a Year of 'Defense' in 2009 by Sean Carr
⇒Need care? Just Google it – I did. “A healthcare company hired to manage a program for elderly Texans as part of a broad privatization plan was fined more than $1 million by the state in the past year over mounting complaints that included delayed or denied medical care.
Evercare of Texas… has drawn the ire of some powerful Austin lawmakers over its management of preventative and long-term care for the state’s most vulnerable, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday in the first of a four-part investigative series.
Steven McGee…[a] truck driver disabled by multiple sclerosis, tried to enroll after receiving a packet from Evercare in advance of a care program that was to launch Feb. 1 last year. He said the first three people he talked to didn’t know what he was talking about…
After McGee convinced her [a fourth Evercare representative] that he had a company pamphlet in hand…. "She came back and said, 'I understand what you’re talking about now because…I Googled it.’’[McGee said]”
Excerpted from: Company caring for elderly under fire from state, Associated Press 1-5-09
⇒How far can it tilt without falling over? “The Supreme Court has embarrassed Texas with its demonstrable tilt toward insurers and other corporate defendants… the court has gone out of its way to protect businesses from lawsuits to a degree that even the Texas Legislature and the defense bar can't stomach.”
Excerpted from: Editorial -Texas Supreme Court's tilt toward insurers causes concern, Austin American Statesman, 12-1-08
⇒Is this intended to be reassuring? “Traces of the industrial chemical melamine have been detected in samples of top-selling U.S. infant formula, but federal regulators insist the products are safe.”
“The Food and Drug Administration said last month it was unable to identify any melamine exposure level as safe for infants, but a top official said it would be a "dangerous overreaction" for parents to stop feeding infant formula to babies who depend on it.”
Excerpted from: FDA finds traces of melamine in US infant formula By MARTHA MENDOZA and JUSTIN PRITCHARD, Associated Press 11-26-08
⇒Just the facts. “Plaintiffs won in more than half of state court civil trials in 2005 and were more likely to get a favorable verdict in bench than jury trials, according to a new U.S. Department of Justice report.”
“The report was released Tuesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice. The study is the first nationally representative measure of general civil bench and jury trials in state courts”.
“Out of the 14,000 civil trials that went in the plaintiffs' favor, punitive damages were awarded in about 5 percent of the cases, with $64,000 as the median punitive damages award”.
“The report also pointed to a major drop in the number of civil trials, with numbers decreasing by 52 percent from 1992 to 2005 in the nation's 75 most populous counties. In these counties, the median final award also decreased, from $72,000 in 1992, to $43,000 in 2005”.
Excerpted from: DOJ Study: Plaintiffs Win More Than Half of State Court Civil Trials, by Vesna Jaksic, National Law Journal, 10-30-08
⇒ME TOO! ME TOO! “When the government said it would spend $700 billion to rescue the nation’s financial industry, it seemed to be an ocean of money. …it suddenly looks like a dwindling pool.”
“…The shrinking pie — and the growing uncertainty over who qualifies — has thrown Washington’s legal and lobbying establishment into a mad scramble.”
“The lobbying frenzy worries many traditional bankers — the original targets of the rescue program — who fear that it could blur, or even undermine, the government’s effort to stabilize the financial system after its worst crisis since the 1930s.”
“The …law gave the Treasury broad authority to decide how to spend the $700 billion…cash infusions are available to “qualifying U.S. banks, savings associations, and certain bank and savings and loan holding companies, engaged only in financial activities.”
“That definition has grown to include private banks and insurers like Allstate and MetLife, which own savings and loans.”
Excerpted from: Lobbyists Swarm the Treasury for Piece of Bailout Pie, By MARK LANDLER and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 11-12-08
⇒Hungry Hungry Hippos. "On Friday and over the weekend, four insurance companies with no history of banking joined the hippo parade as they scrambled to buy up small savings-and-loans. Doing so allows the insurers to qualify as banks and thus become eligible for federal bailout money".
"While some of the targeted thrifts are tiny, the insurers acquiring them all have been hit hard by the credit crisis and need capital injections -- and, apparently, government assistance -- to survive".
Excerpted from: Insurers Jump on the Bailout Bandwagon, Zach Lowe, The Am Law Daily, 11-18-08
⇒But your honor, they don’t like us. A widely watched trial over Chevron's Nigerian operations featured a new online frontier Monday in the battle to influence the hearts and minds of potential jurors.
While imposing a general gag order, Northern District of CA Judge Susan Illston ordered Chevron to take down a paid Google link sponsored by the company... which directed Internet surfers to a Chevron-created Web site that provided information about the incident at issue in trial.
The company placed the link to appear when anyone Googled the name of the lead plaintiff, Larry Bowoto, plaintiffs argued.
…[the] defense attorney…defended the sponsorship, pointing out that nine of the first 10 Google search results for the lead plaintiff's name produced Web pages friendly to Bowoto.
"Are they sponsored links?" Illston asked.
[the defense attorney] said he didn't think so, and the judge indicated that that's what concerned her.
"To me, that's as sure a thing as giving a statement to the press," Illston said. When [defense attorney] responded that Chevron was "way behind," the judge cut him off.
"Way behind in fighting the case in the press? We're not going to fight the case in the press," she said…
Excerpted from: Judge: Chevron Must Remove Paid Google Link Tied to Search of Plaintiff's Name by Dan Levine, The Recorder, 10-28-08
⇒No life boats? Toss the patients overboard. “Doctors and hospital executives say collecting payments from insurers has become an expensive headache that is driving up the nation's healthcare costs.”
“Two decades ago, the top 10 insurers covered about 27% of all insured Americans. Today, four companies…cover more than 85 million people, almost half of all those with private insurance.”
“More than 30 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare goes to administration, according to a 2007 survey of insurance and medical executives. That translates to about $630 billion this year.”
“Patients are often dragged into the financial tug of war…When their bills are rejected or reduced by insurers, doctors often try to recover unpaid balances from patients, even if the amounts exceed what they are responsible for paying under their insurance plans.”
Excerpted from: The battle of the medical bills, By Daniel J. Costello, Lisa Girion and Michael A. Hiltzik, LA Times 10-23-08
⇒Singing a different tune: The Hypocrisy Boogie. "Corporate executives routinely sing the praises of arbitration clauses…that typically bars a consumer from going to court in the event of a dispute."
"Now three law professors suggest that companies are far less likely to use arbitration clauses in contracts with each other than they are in contracts with consumers."
"The findings by Professor Eisenberg, whose co-authors on the most recent study were Geoffrey P. Miller of New York University School of Law and Emily Sherwin of Cornell Law School, might prove provocative. Their study, which was described in an article this summer in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform…"
"They found that companies included mandatory arbitration clauses in 75 percent of consumer agreements but in just 24 percent of contracts over all."
"Companies say that arbitration is "a fair and cost-saving process," [Eisenberg] continued. "If they believe that is true across the board, why don’t they insist on it when they contract with each other?"
Excerpted from: Companies Unlikely to Use Arbitration With Each Other, By JONATHAN D. GLATER, NYT, 10-6-08
⇒Not if, but when. " The federal judge overseeing BP's criminal case stemming from the deadly 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery said Tuesday that whatever she decides on a pending plea deal won't guarantee safety at the plant."
"I can't make that plant safe," U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal…"
"…David Senko, who was in California at the time of the blast but was the supervisor of the 15 contractors who died, told Rosenthal that no dollar amount or penalty was large enough for the lax safety systems that led to the deaths of 15 and injuries of many more… "There will be another blast. Let's hope it won't have the same result as March 23, 2005." [he said]
"Three people have died at the refinery since the blast."
Excerpted from: BP judge says she can't 'make that plant safe' by Kristen Hayes, Houston Chronicle 10-7-08
⇒Cloaks and dollars. Lou Dobbs: "The reality is that these two organizations [Business Roundtable & US Chamber of Commerce] are working against the American people and have been for some time and haven't got the guts to come on the show and talk about the issues. They are behind the scenes stifling the voice of American business. Think about the last time you heard a CEO step up in front of a camera and mike actually express himself or herself on any issue of great public policy importance and it's disgusting that these associations are just really -- they're cloaks, they're veils, for the self-influence of business. It's a shame".
Excerpted from: CNN - LOU DOBBS TONIGHT Transcript, September 29, 2008
Austin American Statesman (Associated Press), August 25, 2006
ABC News Internet Ventures 7-19-08
By Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, July 29, 2008
Insurance Information Institute
"Arbitration seriously tilts the playing field in favor of businesses. Consumers have to pay the arbitrators just to hear their claims, unlike the public courts, where the taxpayers pay the judges. Arbitrators often charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their services".
"All of this is especially nefarious given that the vast majority of consumers who attempt to seek justice in mandatory arbitration lose…Public Citizen recently analyzed data the NAF provided to the state of California…Public Citizen found that in 94 percent of 19,000 cases, NAF ruled in favor of the businesses that hired them".
Excerpted from: Suckers Wanted: How Car Dealers and Other
Excerpted from: On Thrill Rides, Safety Is Optional,
"Politics, poverty and illegal immigration intersect here to make health care a thornier issue than in most states. And Texas, with legends of independence and gritty self-reliance, has rarely been at the forefront in creating government entitlements".
"RANKING TEXAS When it comes to health care, Texas is: • 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for the overall performance of its health care system. • Last in the percentage of its residents covered by health insurance. • No. 2 state in the number of people without insurance: 5.5 million. • No. 1 state with the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population between 2000 and 2006.
SOURCES: The Commonwealth Fund; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Excerpted from: Politics, poverty, immigration entangle Texas health care, Dallas Morning News, 12-5-2007
Excerpted from: Shepherd, Joanna and Rubin, Paul H., "The Demographics of Tort Reform"
That was a prime topic of conversation among 1,600 senior insurance executives at the annual meeting of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America this week in Boston….
[Luntz’ Advice to the Insurers]
• "You're supposed to be about safety and protection. Instead, you're about insecurity and anger."
• "You need to let them know you live in their neighborhoods, and your house was destroyed as well."
• "You need to make them see that you will make them whole again. That's what they want."
• "If Trent Lott comes to you with a claim for his house that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, pay it."
Excerpted from: 'Image is everything, insurers say,' 11/03/07, New Orleans Times Picayune
• "Nearly half of Texas counties...have no obstetrician, neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon."
• "...21 Texas counties have no physician of any kind."
• "The TMA counts 186 new obstetricians in Texas since Proposition 12 passed.... Collin County...gained the most obstetricians." (34)
• "The pattern of doctors' opting to practice in more affluent, urban areas holds true for Texas' overall gains in neurosurgeons (36) and orthopedic surgeons (185) since 2003."
As a result, foreign drug and drug ingredient makers are inspected on average once every eight to 12 years, while American-based manufacturers must be inspected at least once every two years.
In addition, the investigators reported, FDA officials generally do not bring their own translators, and so in countries such as China they rely on company-supplied translators to conduct inspections. They also have to tell foreign manufacturers in advance that they are coming, while FDA inspectors can go into American plants at any time unannounced.
Excerpted from: FDA's Foreign Inspection Budget Lean, Washington Post, 11/1/07
Consumer advocates have questioned the commission's effectiveness and its ties to the industry it oversees in the wake of natural gas explosions that have killed at least nine North Texas residents and injured more in the last decade.
Now, documents produced as part of a lawsuit in an explosion last October that killed an elderly Wylie couple show that a top commission staffer changed an investigator's report, which had the effect of steering blame away from an underground pipe coupling that critics say should never have been used in Texas' notoriously shifting soil.
The commission has considered ordering the couplings' replacement, but chose to study them first. They remain in use under 100,000 North Texas homes.
Excerpted from: State official says report's shift away from
Note: WFAA-TV reporter Brett Shipp and producer Mark Smith examined the possible hazards
The government study, which is being published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that such infections may be twice as common as previously thought, according to its lead author, Dr. R. Monina Klevens.
If the mortality estimates are correct, the number of deaths associated with the germ, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, would exceed those attributed to H.I.V.-AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema or homicide each year.
Excerpted from: 'Deadly Bacteria Found to Be More Common',
Two-thirds of doctors who made 10 or more malpractice payments were not disciplined at all by their state medical boards. Only 8.61 of doctors who made two or more malpractice payments were disciplined by their state board.
Source: Center for Justice & Democracy 'Spotlight on Justice'
According to Robison, "None of his professional problems was mentioned on the TLR Web site, but his profile was removed last week, within an hour after I informed a TLR spokeswoman about them."
Source: Center for Justice & Democracy 'Spotlight on Justice'
Adverse events are those defined as resulting in death, a birth defect, disability, hospitalization or requiring intervention to prevent harm. The number of such events grew from 34,966 in 1998 to 89,842 in 2005. During the same period, the number of deaths rose from 5,519 to 15,105.
LA Times, Thomas H. Maugh II, September 11, 2007
Paying out less to victims of catastrophes has helped produce record profits. In the past 12 years, insurance company net income has soared -- even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
You have to put it in context," he said. Mattel isn't withholding anything from regulators, he said, adding that the only question is "whether we reported the issue in a timely manner."
Excerpted from: Safety Agency, Mattel Clash Over Disclosures,
Wall Street Journal 9-4-2007
⇒D'oh! It’s Medical Errors, Stupid… "Medicare will no longer pay the extra costs of treating preventable errors, injuries and infections that occur in hospitals, a move they say could save lives and millions of dollars."
"If a patient goes into the hospital with pneumonia, we don't want them to leave with a broken arm," said Herb B. Kuhn, acting deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and it says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year - about 270 a day."
"Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, an expert on patient safety who was the top health official at the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1994 to 1999, said: "I applaud the intent of the new Medicare rules, but I worry that hospitals will figure out ways to get around them. The new policy should be part of a larger initiative to require the reporting of health care events that everyone agrees should never happen. Any such effort must include a mechanism to make sure hospitals comply."
Excerpted from: Medicare Says It Won't Cover Hospital Errors by Robert Pear, The New York Times, 8-19-2007
⇒Who's Watching the Watchers? "The unfortunate news that another 9 million toys tainted with lead paint or dangerous small magnets were recalled on August 14 underscores many problems. First, parents should understand that the government itself does not test products to ensure that they comply with mandatory standards -- that's left up to manufacturers."
" The CPSC lacks the leadership, the money, the staff and the legal authority it needs to protect us from dangerous imported or domestically-produced products. This should also serve as a wakeup call to Congress that the headless CPSC needs a safety-oriented chairperson, more money, more authority and more staff."
Excerpted from U.S. PIRG: http://www.uspirg.org/issues/toy-safety
⇒Over 90% of TLR PAC Contributions Come From Just 6 Donors. "Mark McCaig ofTexans forIndividual Rights. “Campaign finance reports filed this week by Texans for Lawsuit Reform reveal that that more than 90% of the contributions to their political action committee came from just six donors. Additionally, these reports reveal that nearly 40% of contributions to the TLR PAC during the reporting period came from homebuilders."
"Mark McCaig, President of Texans for Individual Rights, stated 'While Texans for Lawsuit Reform claims to be a grassroots organization with over 15,000 members, their campaign finance reports show them to be nothing more than a front group for a small group of wealthy businessmen.'”
Source: Texans for Individual Rights Press Release, 7-19-2007
⇒Straight from the Horse’s Mouth. An impressive survey of Texas district court judges, just published in the Baylor Law Review that addresses frivolous lawsuits, jury behavior and the need for “tort reform” found:
Over 83% of the Texas district court judges had observed not a single instance of a “runaway jury” verdict on either actual or exemplary damages during the preceding 48 months.
"The survey results confirm that most Texas trial judges do not see significant numbers of frivolous filings by people who have no business suing, and plaintiffs with legitimate suits are much more likely to be under compensated than to receive any windfall. Two primary goals for tort jurisprudence are for the victim to receive full compensation and to deter the tortfeasor, and when victims are not fully compensated and tortfeasors are not deterred, neither goal is met."
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: Judicial Observations of Jury Behavior and the Need for Tort Reform
Baylor Law Review, [Vol. 59.2] 2007
⇒Poll - hold corporations accountable. The American Association for Justice distributed the following press release on July 12, 2007. New Poll Reveals Voter Anxiety about Corporate Misconduct, Support for Strong Civil Justice System to Ensure Accountability and Fairness(Washington, DC)— A national poll of 2008 voters by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. reveals significant anxiety concerning corporate misconduct and large support among voters for a strong civil justice system to ensure corporate accountability and fairness. T he poll’s findings concludes:
Americans are deeply worried about their nation’s future, and concern about corporate misconduct is a major source of their anxiety. “Worried swing voters,” who see corporate irresponsibility as a central problem, may play a pivotal role in the 2008 election.
Voters support the civil justice system as an important remedy for corporate misconduct, and reject legal “reforms” that restrict plaintiffs’ ability to hold corporations accountable and obtain fair restitution.
Voters will support candidates who defend the civil system over candidates who assail “frivolous lawsuits” and advocate “tort reform.” Pro-civil justice candidates not only command overwhelming support from swing voters, but also appeal to significant blocks of Republicans.
“This poll demonstrates overwhelming voter support for a civil justice system ensuring that those who have been injured by the wrongdoing or negligence of others can receive justice and fair compensation – even when taking on the most powerful interests,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber. “It shows wide support among voters for a vital civil justice system continuing to provide a level playing field for people to hold corporations accountable when they seek to evade responsibility for their misconduct.
American Association for Justice, press release on July 12, 2007
⇒Small-business owners don't lose sleep over frivolous lawsuits. "Still, research by legal reform advocates suggests that most small-business owners don't lose sleep over frivolous lawsuits. A survey released in May by the Institute for Legal Reform found that more than half of small-business owners said they were "not too concerned" or "not at all concerned" about getting sued, and in 2006 members of the National Association of Manufacturers ranked fear of litigation last on a list of 10 factors hurting their businesses."
Excerpt: After the $54M Dry Cleaner Lawsuit,www.businessweek.com, July 9, 2007.