Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leaving out the trial lawyers

I read today in the Tallahassee Democrat an article with the headline: Drug company increases cost of a drug to prevent premature birth from $10 to $1500. Now that sort of headline gets your attention.

The article is about a drug called progesterone which is used to slow down a woman's potential for premature labor during pregnancy. The drug has apparently a history of efficacy and use. It seems that no one in the US manufactured this drug until recently. Prior use has been off label and compounding pharmacists have been making the product for use by physicians by orders from physicians.

Now enters the pharmaceutical company Ther-Rx Corp. They are the blokes who have taken on the manufacture of this obscure drug to benefit a handful of patients in a specific condition only relating to high risk pregnancies.

It is interesting to me that no mention is made in the complete article about the mill costs, start up costs, cost of studies and the big one LIABILITY. It always seems that our friends the trial attorneys are never made mention of. I am here to tell you that the fear of getting sued by the local attorney du jour on the occassion of tragic side effects or outcomes looms large in this scenario. Any company entering into the manufacture of anything that is to be ingested by a tort minded citizen is taking on a huge risk of liability.

I remember back in my lobbying days, and yes I did lobby for the pharmaceutical industry, that the Florida legislature circa 1995 tried to do something about the high cost of malpractice insurance in our state. FACOG ( Florida Academy of College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ) spent many thousands of dollars in a grass roots effort to make the public aware that malpractice premiums were driving practitioners to other states where reforms and caps on liability had been implemented. Back then it was not unusual for OBG's to pay $125,000 per year in malpractice insurance premiums. The same applies today.

FMA ( Florida Medical Association ) carried the water for the states physicians and The Florida Academy of Trial Attorneys took the opposite side. Both sides represented deep pockets. You want to know who won? The trial attorneys. The people voting on the legislation were largely from amongst the trial attorney pool. Malpractice still looms as the single biggest cost in practicing medicine. It also casts a long shadow over the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.

Yet no one ever hears anything about this cost in all the print and electronic media. The threat of law suits lies below the surface in all things that touch the practice of medicine.

All during the debate on nationalizing health care did you hear a peep from anyone about why don't we limit the amount of damages in malpractice cases? You remember John Edwards. This guy ran for Veep with John Kerry. He made his millions from suing physicians almost exclusively. All the press that we have had concerning national health care over the last couple of years and I challenge you to find much written about tort reform. Fingers point in all directions but it never seems to point in the direction of the trial attorneys. Why is that, do you suppose? Do you think they pour any money at all into the pockets of the people who make our laws and carry the debate?

I once attended a meeting of a group called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). It was held in Nashville at Opryland. This was an amalgamation of legislators from states all over the country and private enterprise. Lots of lofty principles were bandied about. I remember one of the exhibitors offered me a free tee shirt if I would give them my e-mail address so they could hit me up often for a donation. I needed a free tee shirt to jog in so I signed up. Upon arrival home back here in Tallahassee my wife read it and told me that someone was going to beat me up if they read the message. It was on the back of the shirt in pretty large print. I told her that I would only wear it in the dark when I ran early in the AM's. The message said: " Do trial attorneys make any of the products you use? No, they only make them more expensive."

One day a man and a woman came up to my rear as I was puttering along on the sidewalk. The lady asked the man, " Are you reading his tee shirt?" He responded, "Yes, I see it." He then addressed me introducing himself as a trial attorney. However, he said I am not one of those. I happen to agree with the message. Now how weird is that?

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