Imagine this: You go in for routine surgery at the recommendation of your trusted doctor. You kiss your family goodbye and are wheeled into the operating room. Hours later you wake up in recovery. Instantly you know something isn’t right. You call for a nurse. As she hovers over you, the look of concern in her eyes is evident. “What happened?” you ask. “Sir, there was a bit of a problem during your surgery…” Through her muddled sentences you are only able to make out one word. “Paralyzed.”
Now, imagine this: It’s two years later. You’re confined to a wheelchair, out of work and severely depressed. Your medical bills guzzle up what little state-assisted income you receive. As a construction worker you know your professional future is limited. The only glimmer of retribution is the possible settlement from a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and hospital who are liable for your paralysis. However, what once would have been a sizable settlement that would have provided necessary income for the rest of your life, is now limited thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s radical Medicaid reform.
After his State of the State address in January, Governor Cuomo appointed a task force to find ways to reduce costs and increase the quality and efficiency of New York State’s Medicaid program. As one of the 79 recommendations, the Medicaid Redesign Team has proposed capping non-economic awards, such as pain and suffering, in medical malpractice cases at $250,000. Lawmakers have tried in the past to create such caps, but the proposals have always been rejected by the Assembly majority.
According to The New York Times, “Critics of the malpractice proposal accuse Mr. Cuomo of selling out patients to please the hospitals and get them on his side.” These critics are right. “They take issue with the substance of the proposal, question whether the malpractice changes would actually save the state money and asserting that they would make it more difficult for New Yorkers to get compensation in cases of doctor wrong-doing.” What’s more, creating this cap would eventually save hospitals $700 million a year, a savings that comes at the cost of injured victims.
Placing a set number on how much a victim can recover is a direct violation of our civil justice system. The New York Bar Association, who also oppose proposal, states that the purpose of our tort system is “to make whole or compensate the victims of harm caused by negligence of others.” Capping this kind of compensation discriminates against victims who suffer the most devastating physical and psychological losses as well as those with low or no income.
In reality, the amount you might recover in a lawsuit will be further reduced by liens placed on th recovery by health care insurance companies. They just can’t get enough of your money. After paying sky high premiums to have health insurance, then being injured by a doctor and needing additional care, your health insurance company can take back what they paid for your care from any amount you receive in a settlement. We think it’s not fair.
Governor Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team is extremely close to creating unfair changes within our civil justice system. If passed, the proposal threatens to take away the court’s power to decide the amount awarded to victims, like the one mentioned above, disrupting the legal system as we know it and allowing hospitals and doctors to avoid paying for their grave errors. Call Governor Cuomo and tell him you don’t want the government messing with the court system given to us by the Constitution.
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