Trial lawyers face tort reform 'danger zone' in health care overhaul, says lobbyist

Chris Rizo Jul. 30, 2009, 5:43am

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)- President Barack Obama's push for an overhaul of the nation's health care system could be stymied by Senate lawmakers, particularly moderate Democrats, the lobbyist for trial lawyers said.

Linda Lipsen, American Association for Justice (AAJ) senior vice president of public affairs, told her organization's members that among moderate Senate Democrats who could possibly pose a threat to the Obama health care push are Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Tom Carper of Delaware.

Lipsen told trial lawyers in the AAJ's Birth Trauma Litigation Group meeting this week that the lawmakers are "business Democrats that aren't necessarily that great for us," referring to plaintiffs' lawyers.

House Democrats and Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are seeking to create a government-run "public option" insurance plan as part of the health care overhaul. However, Baucus backs the idea of nonprofit, member-owned health care cooperatives.

Lipsen said the trial lawyers face a "danger zone" for tort reform-minded medical malpractice amendments when the health care proposal reaches the Senate Finance Committee, which has traditionally been unfriendly turf for the nation's trial lawyers.

She said lawmakers on the committee will likely seek to limit medical malpractice limits rather than address consumer issues and the uninsured.

"I think that we will survive the Finance Committee," Lipsen said, adding that if you were a Martian listening to the committee's hearings on the issue, "You would think that the health care situation in this country is all about medical malpractice and the 47 million people that don't have insurance were beside the point."

As for what happens on the Senate floor, she said there will likely be a range of amendments for various preemptions proposed, a move that could be quietly used by Republicans to stall the legislation without launching a filibuster, which Democrats could ultimately overcome given they have the 60 votes to invoke cloture.

"Democracy is a great thing except on the Senate floor," she said. "Sixty votes is a tough climb. I think we'll get there, but it's a tough climb."

On whether Obama would sign a health care bill that limits lawsuits as a path to cost containment, Lipsen said she expects the president, who has made health care reform a priority, would eagerly sign the legislation, despite trial lawyers' opposition.

"If it looks moderate or modest even though you know it not to be, this president will sign it," Lipsen said. "It's health care reform."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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