Republican lawmakers in Florida are busy beating the tort reform, or deform, drum. The target of such efforts this time? The poor and disenfranchised citizens of Florida who depend on Medicaid for their health care. Big surprise.
The Florida House has introduced a bill that would cap non-economic, or pain and suffering type damages in medical malpractice and personal injury cases brought by Medicaid recipients, at $300,000. The cap that applies to everyone else in medical malpractice cases is $500,000, and that can go up in egregious cases. Medicaid recipients are the poor and disabled. As such, this bill targets those with the least ability to protect their rights. And it would create a two tier civil justice system in Florida that is clearly unconstitutional.
It is no surprise that doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and others who serve Medicaid populations are all for the legislation. Big surprise. What’s not to like for them? Supporters claim that Medicaid dollars are state dollars and state entities already enjoy levels of protections that private parties do not. This is technically not true. Medicaid dollars are federal dollars that are administered by the states. States are accountable for how the dollars are handled, but that does not make them any less federal dollars. Just a little bit of obfuscation by supporters.
The other thing that supporters of the bill do not want you to know, is how much victims of medical malpractice and accidents pay back to the system when they recover from those who injured them. Every state has a statutory lien on the recovery obtained by any Medicaid recipient who is able to hold a wrongdoer accountable. That means every recipient has to work with the state if and when there is money to pay back a substantial portion of the medical benefits they received because someone injured them. Such paybacks to the Medicaid coffers of Florida have exceeded 20 million since 2003 from medical malpractice cases alone. Also, when Medicaid recipients do recover when someone injures them, the recovery often makes them ineligible for Medicaid so they are no longer recipients – more savings for the state.
The legislation currently being considered by the Florida House is not in the best interests of constituents. As is often the case, it only serves to protect the bottom lines of the medical community and big business. Big surprise.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.