2004 Archive

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RENO (Nov. 1, 2004) — The votes are in. Taking the grand prize as the most frequently asked question I've gotten this election season: "What about these *(/@#&! ballot questions?" Followed closely by "Do they really expect me to read all that stuff?"

A couple of weeks ago, I printed a primer on the big ballot questions.

It goes a long way toward simplifying the simpler propositions in the ballotorial alphabet soup. But apparently nothing and no one can fully explain the Big 3, the HMO-insurance-hospital-doctor-lawyer malpractice/legal fee brouhaha. Some of the best journalists in the state have written the pulp poundage equivalent of the latest Harry Potter novel trying to explain the ins and out, pros and cons and convolutions.

Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick probably spoke for many when he said "if I can't understand them, I'll vote against them all."

Like the presidential race, the polls conflict. The Reno Gazette-Journal/KRNV TV-4 poll yesterday showed Questions 3, 4 and 5 all winning. The Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier showed a lead for Q-3, the doctors' initiative, with its opposite numbers, Q-4 and Q-5, trailing.

The major newspaper reports also conflict as to who has raised the most money. The LVRJ said the St. Bernards have outfunded the Legal Beagles by "a nearly 3-to-1 margin in contributions, $3.7 million to $1.3 million" (Oct. 29).

The Reno paper pegged the spending at $2.5 million for the MD's vs. about $800,000 for the JD's. (Oct. 31)

As I noted in yesterday's Sparks Tribune, my spies report that post-election disclosures will show that the medical-hospital-insurance lobby will have spent well over $6 million, a number that the plaintiff's bar won't come close to.

As a result of the dollar volume pleading to "keep our doctors in Nevada," it appears that the doctor's initiative, Question 3, may well pass. (The Oct. 31 Reno Gazette-Journal's mutiple-page spread pretty well sorted the wheat from the chaff between the conflicting claims, but one stands out: When repeatedly asked for an example of a "frivolous lawsuit," the physicians' spin doctors have not been able to cite one. Not one. See NewsLinks, below.)

I have thus suggested voting in favor of Q-4 and Q-5 as a sort of medium-range malpractice insurance in case Q-3 really puts the screws to medical consumers. Stated in its most oversimplified form, Question 3 caps pain and suffering damages at $350,000 no matter what the injury. The 2002 Nevada special legislative session allowed judges to remove the limit in cases of grotesque incompetence.

No matter what happens at the polls, the fight will not be over. If Q-3 passes, it goes into effect immediately. Q-4 and Q-5, being constitutional amendments, need to be passed by the voters twice. If experience proves they are not needed, they can always be voted down in the second round in 2006.

The doctors have also been circulating another petition to further limit legal fees on top of what Q-3 will impose. That measure, if it garners enough signatures, will be presented to the 2005 legislature and to the voters in 2006 should lawmakers not pass it verbatim.

I was personally crestfallen to read the RGJ story because I know several of the good doctors interviewed. They are capable, honorable professionals, as are just about all the lawyers I know.

All are victims of a health care system spiraling out of control. The issues are far too complex to solve in one article or even one election. Hence, the launching of this website devoted to these issues now and into the future.

It will present legal and legislative news and compile in one place disciplinary actions of both doctors and attorneys.

It will be a marketplace of ideas, no matter how inane, such as the Golden Rule Insurance Company's "medical savings account,"a tax break for the wealthy which will insure the elimination of that little thing called Medicare. (Beware: Dubya will push the "health savings account" in his second term.)

No advice diatribe is supposed to end without a call to action, so try this: If the public gets propagandized into enacting the meat-ax approach proposed in Q-3, the least our lawmakers should do next year is allow us to buy our own insurance.

If we are allowed to purchase uninsured motorist options to cover ourselves against renegade drivers, how about underinsured doctors' policies to indemnify sorely abused patients? Perhaps it could be done as simply as having a vending machine in hospital admitting rooms. Remember when you could buy death…er, I mean, life insurance next to the Coke machine at the airport?

What about revisiting Nevada's 1980's health care cost controls, which worked well but were allowed to sunset by lawmakers? (I wonder why.)

If the docs want a cap on pain and suffering but don't want to cap lost earnings, let's work on that. Perhaps lawmakers will allow a revision of the definition of lost wages if it can result in more equitable treatment. Right now, a dead teenager is worth less than a dead CEO based on projected lifetime earnings. That's never seemed fair to me.

Which brings me back to I need your help as a health care consumer to help bring a bit of consumer-oriented sanity to what has been an often-hysterical discussion.

Good tools are emerging, starting with Critical Condition, the new book by the best investigative reporting team in the country, two-time Pulitzer Prize winners Donald Barlett and James Steele. You'll read more about their very important writings here. Sign up for our mailing list. Spead the word to your friends.

Barlett and Steele note that far from being the best health care system in the world as some, including William Jefferson Clinton, have bragged, we rate 29th, according to the World Health Organization, sandwiched between those industrial powerhouses Slovenia and Portugal. (Critical Condition, page 13)

Yep, that's right, whupped by Slovenia. Go figger.

The good reporters are not the only ones offering simple and sensible solutions. We have the money and the expertise to fix the system. All we lack is the good will.

When Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president on that dark day in 1963, the national press scrambled to tell Americans about their new leader. They found his favorite saying: "Come, let us reason together."


Welcome aboard.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano





Medical malpractice reform prompts justices to review allegations of 1999 inappropriate surgery

Florida passes doctor three strikes and malpractice cap initiatives
Bad doctors amendment put on hold by judge

Question 3 passes, effects will be watched, court test promised

Statewide election results

Say what?
Wall Street Journal editorial board economist SUSAN LEE: caps poor policy

Junk Lawsuits —How journalism in Nevada and elsewhere
invented the litigation "crisis"
Dennis Myers' cover story in the 10-21-2004 Reno News & Review

Medical Muddle
Front page news roundup by Frank X. Mullen
Reno Gazette-Journal, 10-31-2004

Patients caught in crossfire as doctors and lawyers do battle
over insurance issues on Nov. 2 ballot

Las Vegas Review-Journal 10-24-2004

Nation’s largest medical malpractice insurer declares caps on damages don’t work
and just raise doctors' premiums

.pdf file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

"Critical Condition" Denver Post Review

Please consider voting NO on Q-3, Yes on Q-4 and Q-5.
Send your comments and personal stories

Ballot Question Analysis
Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune 10-24-2004

Republican spin doctors rail against an epidemic of "lawsuit abuse"
but the facts don't support the rhetoric

Mother Jones 9-9-2004

A modest state-level health care reform proposal


Searchable database of Board of Medical Examiners
Doctor Disciplinary Records for Nevada

Full list sorted alphabetically

Las Vegas Review-Journal Medical Malpractice Archive

State Bar of Nevada Ethics Overview


Court upholds $4.8 million judgment against Sunrise Hospital
Las Vegas Sun version of the above story

Botox Doc Defrocked
Board: MD posed immediate danger to public
Second board defrocks osteodoc

Jury awards $11.6 million in insurance lawsuit
Insurer refused to pay disability benefits for years

Woman sues eye surgeon for malpractice alleging cocaine use; doctor still practicing; plaintiff's lawyer suspended and himself faces drug charges
What a country!

Las Vegas area lawyers honored for work donated to community

Defrauded legal clients apply to State Bar fund; may get most of money back

Pediatrician accused in porn case found victim through Big Brother program

Doctors get love, not lawsuits donating services in foreign countries

It’s the liability, stupid…

Nevada Supreme Court rules against physician
in patient-dumping case vs. two other doctors

Doctor faces hearing about unapproved flu shots

Supremes vindicate trial lawyers in legal malpractice filing
stemming from medical malpractice case

Defrauded legal clients apply to State Bar fund, may get most of money back

Lawyer Indicted, Suspended from Practice

Attorney's problems could go deeper than clients' missing $350,000


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