In August, 2004, I received a call from a group of Pennsylvania doctors asking me to consult with them over the building medical malpractice/health care delivery crisis. I came out of retirement in Florida to see what was happening.
What I saw when I arrived back in Pennsylvania was a disaster.
SB9, the constitutional amendment which would have allowed caps on non-economic damages, had just been tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, thereby putting off substantive medical liability reform until 2007. The trial lawyers were firmly in control of the legislature.
I agreed to go to work. I traveled the state, speaking to hospital staffs, doing radio and TV shows and writing op-ed pieces. It was rewarding and at the same time, very frustrating. The rewards came from the interaction with the many decent, hardworking and committed doctors I met. The frustration came from my inability to keep the medical community focused and working on the goal of tort reform and the knowledge that our lawmakers do not always act in the best interests of our citizens.
Medical liability reform is a political issue that will only be settled in the political arena. But what could prompt enough of Pennsylvania’s 12 million citizens, all of whom require access to quality medical care, to care enough to get involved?
The break I was looking for came at 2 AM on July 7th when the legislators, in cahoots with the Supreme Court, without debate or public input, voted themselves and the judges a massive pay increase and violated the Constitution by giving themselves the pay raise during their present term by calling it an “unvouchered expense account."
The public was and still is furious and the media carried the issue. I know that this issue has “legs”. Every legislator up for election in 2006 will have to answer to a very irate citizenry. Even legislators who go to Harrisburg with idealistic intentions eventually shift their focus to one overriding goal--to get re-elected. Election Day 2005 is the time to scare the pants off of them. This is how to do it and make medical liability reform a huge issue in 2006.
On Tuesday, November 8th, a week from now, there is an off-year election in Pennsylvania, which many people will simply ignore because there are no major statewide or national offices at stake.
But at the TOP of the ballot, two Supreme Court Justices are seeking another ten year term, in what’s known as a “retention” vote. There are no opponents. It is a simple “YES” or “NO” vote. Political analysts will confirm that there is a built in 33% “NO” vote in every judicial retention election. With the beleagured doctors of Pennsylvania leading the charge, we can get the other 18% and send a message that cannot be ignored by legislators seeking reelection in 2006 – that Pennsylvania’s doctors are a political force to be reckoned with.
I ask you to help yourselves, and those working for you to put medical liability reform front and center, by not only going to the polls yourself, but also by getting your family, friends and colleagues to go to the polls and vote “NO” on Justices Nigro and Newman. Turnout is historically low for these off-year elections, so it won’t take a lot to affect the results.
Please do not let this opportunity slip by. VOTE “NO” on November 8th!