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Iowa House Republicans have a major messaging problem when it comes to pushing through a bill that will cap noneconomic damages in cases of medical malpractice at $1 million if Rep. Ann Meyer’s closing comments in subcommittee are any indication.

It’s doubtful Meyer intended her comments to come across the way they did, but I’ve had a few people reach out to me and if I’m being honest, I share their opinion. Meyer’s characterization of the medical malpractice bill is really bad.

Wrapping up Thursday’s subcommittee hearing, Meyer said that recruiting “is the issue here.” This is after a subcommittee in which a handful of terribly tragic stories of medical malpractice were recounted. And in every one of those cases, this bill would cap noneconomic damages at $1 million.

Noneconomic damages, mind you, are things you cannot put a value on such as loss of function of body or mind, pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of chance, loss of consortium, etc.

Yet in her closing comments, Meyer didn’t even refer to these tragedies. She didn’t acknowledge them. Instead, this was her argument — she wants her son to come home and practice medicine.

“My son is in med school. We know how much med school costs. I mean, we’re chucking out over $250,000 for his education and when you’re looking at coming to a state where, uh, you know, one accident — not even an egregious action — can bankrupt someone, ruin their career — I want my son back in Iowa. I want him to practice here,” she said.

We just heard about a baby who had their brain damaged and skull fractured during labor and delivery who will never walk and likely need 24/7 care for their entire life, yet she’s worried about her son coming to Iowa to practice medicine while she pays $250,000 for his education.

And keep in mind, she’s willing to cap the noneconomic damages for that baby at $1 million — or just four times what she’s paying for her son’s med school. Her son, who is pursuing his dream, while another family’s son will not even take a first step and will struggle to communicate verbally at all.

And her focus with this bill is her son?

Chip Baltimore recounted the story of the family of the baby who had a dent put in the side of his head by medical negligence.

“There are certain things about this that will never change,” Baltimore said. “Clearly this baby would be here, if he were old enough, to talk on his own, but he will never talk without assistance. We talk about economic damages of a $97 million, this verdict. Forty-two million dollars was for the cost of care for this child for the rest of his life because he will require 24/7 care.

“We talk about how these things are unsustainable. This OB/GYN clinic and the OB/GYN that did this to this child had $12 million of coverage. Settlement letter offering to settle for the policy limits — $12 million — no response. Settlement letter offering to settle with the policy limits, no response. Settlement letter offering to settle within the policy limits, no response. I could go on and on and on. But only after, only after the $97 million judgment was rendered the medical malpractice insurance company came back and offered $6 million. There is your problem, ladies and gentlemen. It’s with the medical malpractice insurance carriers who refuse to settle within policy limits. They jack up your premiums, they scare the bejeezus out of you, and then refuse to settle.”

A lawyer from Des Moines testified immediately after that. He said he can recount “instance after instance” of people’s lives who were affected by medical malpractice. He shared a story of a woman who was discharged without an appropriate airway and was sent home, suffered a massive brain injury and died.

“She’s survived by two parents and a sibling. Tell these folks that her life is worth $1 million. Tell these folks that the value of her life is no more than $1 million,” he said.

He showed a picture of a boy who was born in a toilet in a local hospital as a twin. He’s in a wheelchair for the rest of his life requiring 24/7 care.

“Economic damages? What about the quality of his life? What about the number that is put on the quality of his life,” he asked.

He talked about a student at Valley who had an unnecessary heart procedure done and a couple of years later he dies.

“Tell (his parents) the value of his life was $1 million,” he said. “Tell them that.”

These stories aren’t made up. They aren’t make-believe. They aren’t conceptual in nature. They’re a reality for these families.

Hoping your son who is in med school returns to Iowa to practice medicine I guess is one dream. But there are families of children in this state who would just dream of their child being able to take a step. Or to spend one day without requiring the assistance of a wheelchair. Or maybe just one more day to live.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand for the life of me, as a parent, as a husband, someone can listen to those stories and just minutes later say the “issue” on this bill is whether or not my son returns to Iowa to practice medicine.

One cannot help but wonder if rather than paying to have her son go through med school and instead having a son who is in a wheelchair in need of 24/7 care for his entire life, the “issue” would be different.

But the reality is it seems those are the two sides of this coin. And it isn’t to suggest the proponents of the bill do not have legitimate concerns.

However, we cannot lose our humanity, no matter the issue. We’re talking about life, after all. What is the quality of your life worth to you? What is the quality of your son’s life? Of your spouse’s life? Of your grandchild’s life? What is it worth to you?

Is there an amount of money that you would accept in exchange for your child’s ability to talk or walk? Is there an amount of money you would accept in exchange for your spouse’s quality of life?

No, of course not. And if there is someone somewhere out there saying maybe, it sure as heck wouldn’t be $1 million.

I don’t know how someone could vote in favor of this legislation knowing the ramifications and the practicality of it. I’m glad I don’t have to do it.

There are some things we do not put a value on. And the reason is that they are invaluable. We wouldn’t trade them for the world. Or a million bucks.


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