Why is health care so expensive?  Is it the cost of technology?  Somewhat.  Is it the cost of caring for those who cannot pay?  Certainly that’s part of the equation.  But what one thing adds more to the charges of an individual doctor than anything else?  Malpractice Insurance.

As of 2009, the average cost for malpractice insurance for general surgeons hovered around $10,000 per year; for internal medicine, $4,000 per year; and for OB/GYNs, up to $17,000 per year.  Those are nationwide averages.  In some states, such as California, Texas and West Virginia, it’s been substantially higher.  Texas recently enacted liability reform to help bring the out-of-control annual increases into a manageable range.  Rates for OB/GYN coverage had become so expensive in West Virginia that OB/GYN physicians have fled the state.

So, what does all this have to do with Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich finding an olive pit in a sandwich?  Plenty.  Read on:

Kucinich announced Friday that he settled a lawsuit filed against a Capitol Hill cafeteria over a cracked tooth he says he suffered when he bit into an olive pit in a sandwich wrap.

Kucinich filed a lawsuit seeking $150,000 in damages from companies involved with the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

This story sickens me.  The fact that it centers around a Liberal Congressman tells the tale of what’s wrong with our legal system.  How this case wasn’t immediately thrown out of court is quite troubling.

If you’ve ever cracked a tooth, you know the fix isn’t cheap.  It can cost anywhere from $800.00 to as much as $1,500.00 to get a crown for the tooth.  The cafeteria clearly acted in an irresponsible manner and should be penalized.  Let’s assume it cost Kucinich $1,500 to have his tooth repaired.  And let’s penalize the cafeteria 100% for their negligence.  That’s $3,000.  And let’s compensate Kucinich for his time and discomfort.  I mean the Congressman had to possibly miss work (I’m trying really hard not to laugh at this point) and we’ll double the existing damages from $3,000 to $6,000.  He did have to hire a lawyer (well, probably didn’t have to hire a lawyer, since the cafeteria clearly knew they’d screwed up,) so we’ll throw in $10,000 for this incredibly difficult case to be litigated.  So by any measure, you really can’t get beyond $16,000.  But wait, Kucinich sued them for $150,000.  See where I’m going?

No, this wasn’t a medical malpractice case.  It was a business liability case.  I’m sure the cafeteria had insurance.  And every time an insurance company pays out, every one else they insure pays a little more.  So the guy with the restaurant a block from where Kucinich cracked his tooth, he gets to chip in a little more.  They each have to pass along at least part of their increased insurance costs to us, the consumers.  So you and I get to pay a little more for a sandwich.

So when do we get to the medical malpractice?  You’re already there.  Doctors make mistakes.  It isn’t that common, but because a life is involved, the results could be amplified many fold over a cracked tooth.  And there should be a penalty for a doctor failing to live up to their Hippocratic oath to do no harm.  But what are the limits?

The Dennis Kuciniches of the world aren’t about fairness or appropriateness.  And because of that insurance companies have had to pay out ever growing settlements, causing malpractice insurance to soar, doctors to charge their patients more, and, in turn health care insurance companies to pay more and raise our premiums.

Why can’t we be reasonable people?  Less than 1/10th of 1 percent of medical malpractice insurance claims involve the death of a patient.  Most have to do with claimed permanent loss of functionality.  For example, a woman had surgery for carpal-tunnel syndrome.  After completing several months of physical therapy she claimed she could no longer thread needles for her sewing.  The surgery corrected years of pain that had prevented her from sewing or knitting.  However, even though the pain was gone she sued the doctor cause she couldn’t thread a needle.  She, and her lawyers, blamed the doctor for damaging nerves in her wrist.  Nerves that may have already been damage by neglecting her carpal-tunnel for years.  She sued the doctor, his practice, the hospital where the surgery was performed and even the anesthesiologist.  Her asking price, $14,000,000.  Yes, you read that right, 14 million dollars.  The case was settled by the malpractice insurance companies representing each of the doctors involved in the surgery and the hospital.  Amount, undisclosed.  The next surgery that doctor performed became much more expensive.  Surgical suite charges for every other patient in that hospital soared.  All because their medical malpractice insurance providers raised their rates.  Could a more equitable solution, if even warranted, have been reached?

So we’re back to Congressman Kucinich.  A man whose salary we pay; a man who has the best insurance our money can buy; setting an example for the rest of us.  Here’s my solution and I’ll bet it never crossed the Congressman’s mind:

The cafeteria pays for the Congressman’s crown.  It gives an equal amount to a charity that provides dental care for the indigent, and it promises to take steps to be sure no one else is ever assaulted by an olive pit.  Unfreakingbelievable!