1:17 PM EST
Bob Casey Jr., D-PA

Mr. CASEY. Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to speak about one of the amendments we are going to be voting on later today. As we stand here today, we are debating the bill on the floor, the health care bill, where we are trying to do a couple things at one time, and I think we can, and I think this bill does it, even though we will make some changes to it.

We are trying to improve the quality of care for Americans, whether they get their health care through a public program or through a private insurance company or a private plan. We are trying to finally use preventive measures to make people healthier and have better health outcomes. [Page: S12528]

We are also working to reduce costs. If you want to talk about it in terms of a doctor and a patient or a health care system and an American, who should benefit from the health care system, we basically want to have people get the care they need from the doctor they choose.

What we are engaged in now is a debate about an amendment which the other side says is about the fees going to trial lawyers. That is the way they like to talk about it, and I know that is popular. When the other side makes an amendment such as this, they like to have a target, so their target is trial lawyers. But, unfortunately, for this debate, I think it is misleading because this amendment, which I would urge people to vote against, is not about lawyers. It is about victims and whether we

are going to ensure that victims have a shot, a fair chance, when they have a claim for medical negligence when they have been injured as a result of negligent conduct.

I said before, we are debating the health care bill and we are talking about costs. This amendment will do nothing to lower costs. What it will do is not lower anyone's costs. What it will do is increase the cost or the burden a claimant has to bear when they have a claim against any kind of hospital or doctor in the case of a medical negligence case. So the question is, are we going to enable people who do not have the means to bring cases versus very powerful interests? That is one of the basic

questions we will answer with regard to this amendment.

I would hope if a member of my family or any family--and I think this is true of everyone in this Chamber--if a member of your family, as a result of medical negligence, had to bring a claim, you would hope that individual could walk into a courtroom or file a claim with someone who has the skill and the ability to be their advocate. Because I will tell you one thing, they are going to be up against a very powerful interest: insurance companies that write medical liability policies, an incredibly

powerful interest.

A lot of us come at this question through our own personal experience, through the experiences of our families. I had a grandfather who I never met, my father's father, Alphonsus Casey. He, like a lot of people in northeastern Pennsylvania, as a young kid, went into the coal mines at a very young age. He worked as a mule boy. One of the days he was tending to the mules in that mine, just as a kid, 11 or 12 years old at the time, he was kicked by a mule. He got a scar that started above his eyebrow

and went across his face, split his lip, and went down through one side of his chin. So he understood injury as a child, injury in the course of working. I think he also understood that when he became a lawyer, many years later, well into his adulthood. He understood what

it is like to suffer an injury and to make a claim for an injury. But what he did is represent injured workers. That was his law practice. I wonder what he would say if he were here talking about what happens to victims when they have an injury they want redress for.

Like on so many other things in this debate, I think the other side of the aisle is carrying water for the insurance companies. Just my opinion, but I think that is the case. Yet in the case of medical negligence and what happens in the real world, we know that 98,000 deaths a year are from preventable medical errors. Let me say that again. We know there are 98,000 deaths in America a year, according to the Institute of Medicine, from preventable medical errors.

So what this amendment does is deny patients the attorney of their choice. It further restricts access to the courts. It drives up costs for victims. When we talk about bringing a case and the barriers to doing that, that is not some future result of this amendment. Oh, I think this amendment will make that problem a lot worse. But right now--no matter what happens in this debate, no matter what happens on the vote on this amendment--there are barriers right now for people to bring a lawsuit.

It costs, in many cases, thousands, if not tens of thousands, to bring a case. And then to see a case all the way through costs a lot more than that.

What are we talking about here? We are talking about allowing someone who has a claim for a serious injury to go see a lawyer and to sit down with that lawyer and enter into an agreement for the fee, whatever that fee will be, whatever that will be. If that lawyer and that person, that patient or victim, goes forward with the case, they bear a risk. The victim bears a risk that they will not be successful and that at the end of that they will have no recovery at all.

But because of the way the contingent fee works, the lawyer bears a risk as well that he or she will not be paid, and they also stand a risk of having to pay for costs the victim cannot pay--and the lawyer will bear those costs throughout the pursuit of that case.

So here is what we are talking about. This is basically a debate about victims and whether they are going to have the kind of representation they need. If I were going in to have surgery in a hospital, I would hope the surgeon would be someone of the best, the highest skill possible. I would want the best surgeon, as I take on that battle. Anyone would.

I would hope we would not do something in the debate to reduce the chances that a victim of medical negligence could go into a courtroom or file a claim with the best, most highly skilled lawyer they can find. I would hope we would not want to do anything that would injure that basic right.

It is interesting that this amendment applies only to patients--it does not apply to anyone else--patients who would become victims of medical negligence.

In conclusion, in terms of what happens in our States, States regulate the conduct of lawyers. They do it all the time. But we also have evidence from the States

about what happens in these kinds of cases. In Pennsylvania, for example, in most counties, as to cases going to trial because of medical malpractice claims--those kinds of lawsuits--in most counties in Pennsylvania, 90 percent of those cases are won by the defense, won by the insurance company. That is the evidence in Pennsylvania.

I know we have others who are ready to speak on this and other amendments. But I think we should make it very clear. On this amendment, this is a debate about two parties: victims of medical negligence versus insurance companies. It is time to choose up which side you stand on. Unfortunately, this amendment is very clearly drafted and intended to help insurance companies, not victims of medical negligence.

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

I withhold that suggestion.