By Morgan Statt
Although we’re still in the infancy of Donald Trump’s presidency, his oval office goals seem to be centered around three things: decreasing fiscal spending, alleviating the burdens of high taxes, and growing the middle class. Since his inauguration, one proposed strategy to tackle these issues was to repeal and replace Obamacare, the health care act that has had more than a few problems in recent years.
You can applaud (okay, maybe slow golf clap) the administration’s efforts towards achieving these lofty goals over the next four years. For one, the U.S. national debt is estimated to be $20.7 trillion the by end of 2017, and any measures taken to lower this increase can be seen as valiant. But, there comes a point when it’s time to remove the blinders and look at the overarching implications that these spending cuts and policy changes will have, not just on the national debt, but on disadvantaged members of the American public.
Since its unveiling last week, the Senate’s latest proposed version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) has not been well-received. From President Obama’s reaction of disappointment to the criticism from five prominent GOP senators, the bill is under fire for hurting more people than it will help in the long run.
For one, the plan calls for drastic cuts to Medicaid, the health insurance program that assists over 70 million people, including children of low-income families, disabled individuals, and the elderly. Through a decrease in enhanced federal funding, states would now be given fewer federal dollars to support individuals on Medicaid. So, that’s 70 million people who may soon face a deficit in service coverages for their health insurance, or who won’t be covered at all under the new bill. For members of the working class who aren’t covered by employer healthcare plans, the bill may demand higher premiums and copays since subsidies received will be much lower. Vox summed up the plan nicely by saying, “The bill asks low- and middle-income Americans to spend significantly more for less coverage.”
There is a small piece of hope to still cling to after hearing that prominent GOP senators opposed the health care bill, but one particular senator highlighted another issue that, if reformed, would do more harm than good for low-income Americans. In a statement discussing his preferred approach to amending the health care bill, Senator Ted Cruz stated that tort reform should be a main focus.
“We should incentivize states to cap punitive damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to further reduce the cost of healthcare.”
Although this may be one way to reduce healthcare costs, damage caps and other tort reforms shouldn’t be the answer. Take, for example, the proposed reform of a $250,000 malpractice damage cap that the administration believes will save the Department of Health & Human Services approximately $32 billion over the course of 10 years. For injured parties however, this limit makes it tougher for plaintiffs to receive a jury trial for the damages they’re seeking, since lawyers would shy away from taking their cases in the first place. It requires about $200,000 to even prepare a medical malpractice case for trial. More often than not, the plaintiff’s pain and suffering in the form of non-economic damages is what allows the lawyer to earn a fee.
Unless you’re an affluent member of society, these damage caps and lawyer fees make it near impossible to even begin filing a claim. Additionally, the reforms would apply to individuals who have health insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, or other subsidized programs, the very programs that are supposed to help low-income Americans to begin with.
So, even if you are one of the lucky ones who’s able to still be covered under Medicaid or other programs after the AHCA bill passes, you’ll have tort reforms working against you in a number of ways if by some stroke of bad luck you find yourself dealing with an unwarranted injury. Coupled with damage caps is the proposed decrease in the statute of limitations from 10 to three years. This means that plaintiffs would need to have suffered an injury within three years of filing a claim to even be considered for a jury trial.
Now, imagine if you were a blue collar worker who did construction prior to the asbestos ban of 1989. After years of exposure to the toxic fibers, you’re then diagnosed with mesothelioma. Not only would it be difficult to pay for a lawsuit against the construction company who used these materials because of your low income, but you wouldn’t be able to file one at all because the three-year statute of limitations has long passed.
Tort reforms would continue to make life more difficult for low-wage earners since they’d be coupled with the recent Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act. This bill prohibits malpractice suits from moving forward if the plaintiffs involved didn’t suffer the “same type and scope” of an injury. Relate this to the recent influx of talcum powder lawsuit cases, and it would again be near impossible for plaintiffs to seek the justice they deserve. If one woman was diagnosed with ovarian cancer through the self-application of baby powder after showering while another woman used it as a method for deodorizing her panties after workouts, they wouldn’t be able to come together and file the suit.
If Trump’s policy changes and recent GOP legislation indicate anything, it’s that lower class Americans will continue to struggle. As Senate Republicans set out to revise the American Health Care Act, we can only hope they’ll realize that health care coverage and the depth of your pockets are not one in the same.
Morgan Statt is the Health & Consumer Safety Advocate at ConsumerSafety.org. She has a background in strategic communication and dedicates her time to writing about consumer rights and health topics. When she isn’t conducting investigative research, you can find her looking for the next wellness trend to try or daydreaming about what country to cross off her bucket list.
Copyright 2017 The Moderate Voice