March 26, 2010
Dear AAJ Member,
For over a year, AAJ has been intimately involved in the health care legislation to ensure the rights of injured patients were protected. It was a long and difficult journey, with twists and turns no one expected. Despite your personal ideology or political belief, this legislation is historic in its scope and the impact it will have on all Americans.
I am very pleased to report that the health care bill is clear of any provisions that would limit an injured patient’s rights concerning medical negligence claims. While there is a provision for demonstration projects, it provides an absolute opt-out clause for plaintiffs at any time. While some states may embark on demonstration programs we find objectionable, the opt-out provision for plaintiffs minimizes this concern.
In short, this is a tremendous victory for all Americans.
This victory would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of AAJ staff, especially Linda Lipsen and her talented Public Affairs team, and our Communications team headed by Ray De Lorenzi. We must also recognize our allies, particularly The Center for Justice & Democracy, which were instrumental in helping to refocus the debate on patient safety and the devastating effect of medical errors on patients and their families.
Here are some of the highlights of AAJ’s efforts and the obstacles we overcame:
• In the House, AAJ defeated tort reform amendments that were offered in all three committees that amended the original bill.
• As the House voted on the health care bill in October, AAJ defeated the GOP’s malpractice cap “motion to recommit,” the only opportunity they had to kill the entire bill. Former AAJ Board Member, Rep. Bruce Braley, deserves special recognition for speaking in opposition to the motion amidst a vitriolic attack against trial lawyers.
• In the Senate, 28 tort reform amendments were defeated in the two committees that marked up the bill.
• On the Senate floor, AAJ decisively defeated a cap on attorney’s fees by a bipartisan 32-66 vote. Many of you spent the weekend emailing and calling your members of Congress.
• AAJ unveiled one of its largest media campaigns ever - 98000Reasons.org - to educate the public and lawmakers about the 98,000 deaths that occur every year from preventable medical errors.
• In addition to print, radio and online advertising, AAJ bought all the billboard space in the Union Station subway for the month of December, specifically targeting Senate staffers who use that station for their daily commute.
• AAJ staff, officers, and members did hundreds of interviews and letters to the editor submissions, reaching print and broadcast outlets nationwide. Thousands of messages were sent to members of Congress through AAJ’s grassroots portal.
You may also remember that back in September, President Obama called on the Department of Health and Human Services to approve $25 million in planning grants and demonstration projects that would reduce the number of medical errors and decrease liability costs. At this time, we are still waiting to hear which planning grants and demonstration projects will receive a federal grant.
While AAJ was fighting tort reform in the halls of Congress, states were also waging their own battles. In the last several months, with the help of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, caps in Illinois and Georgia and Washington’s certificate of merit were declared unconstitutional – tremendous victories for patients in those states.
That health care has passed unfortunately does not mean our fight is over. Undoubtedly, lawmakers will need to revisit health care in the months and years to come, and that may lead to future battles on medical malpractice. We will remain vigilant and ensure the voices of patients are heard.
Whether reading the newspaper or watching C-SPAN, all of you saw the constant assault against trial lawyers and injured patients. Many opponents of these health care bills had no substantive solutions of their own, and in turn, levied attacks on our clients. It was distressing, but at the same time, it was our call-to-action. We knew that only AAJ could protect injured patients and ensure their rights wouldn’t be used as bargaining chips as the debate moved forward.
That’s what we did, and it was a resounding success.
Please share this message with trial lawyers who are not AAJ members and encourage them to join our ranks. We need the support of all who care about civil justice as we face the never-ending assault on trial lawyers and the families we represent, while also working to expand the rights of consumers and access to justice. With your support, AAJ will continue to protect your clients on Capitol Hill.