Why Not Socialize Legal Care in America?

Published January 1, 2008

Americans have a curious notion: Everything that’s good should be a right, and everything that’s bad should be a crime.

The notion is probably more appropriate to a three-year-old’s worldview than the running of a civilization. A three-year-old has parents to help him discover life’s complexities. We grown-ups have the government, that ultimate definer, guarantor, provider, and enforcer of rights and crimes.

The problem comes when the government, in order to secure us more rights, keeps coming up with more crimes.

Government Steps in

Take health care. A century ago, doctors had little to offer besides bedside manner and whatever nostrums they’d tucked into their little black bags. People paid in cash or accepted the free treatment doctors provided as a normal part of their practice.

Now health care consumes nearly one-sixth of our gross domestic product, and if you believe nearly everybody to the left of Dr. Ron Paul, it’s either already a right or should be–albeit a right provided by a government that seems to equate ever-tighter regulation and prosecution of doctors and other providers with the efficient providing of that right.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

We would never dare question the hundreds of thousands of pages of ever-changing regulations, the ever-increasing criminalization of honest mistakes, and the government’s sovereign right to determine who gets what. All we ask is that the notion of rights, and the provisioning and regulation thereof, be applied to that other great consumer of the GDP: law.

Since Hillary Clinton, a lawyer, is again proposing national health insurance, it is only fair for physicians to suggest national legal care. So we’d like to propose national legal care.

The principle is simple. Access to lawyers is a fundamental human right. You are entitled to all you want, for any reason or for no particular reason at all, subject only to the government’s willingness to provide it. In order to make sure you get everything the government thinks you need, from routine legal services to hit-the-jackpot lawsuits, the government will start treating lawyers the way they treat doctors.

The New Rules

1. No American may be denied legal care, regardless of ability to pay.

2. There shall be tens of thousands of pages of government rules and fine print regarding how to practice law. These will require hundreds of hours a year to master, will change constantly, often without notice, and may result in lawyers having to hire and pay employees who do nothing but puzzle over rules of compliance.

3. Failure to abide by these rules may result in harassment, fines, or prison time.

4. Legal fees will be based on a relative value scale established in the 1980s and will be cut back every year. Lawyers will simply have to handle more clients for less.

5. There will be no referral fees of any kind. Million-dollar kickbacks are strictly prohibited.

6. The government will not reimburse lawyers for “preventable errors” in practice. The only acceptable standard is perfection.

7. Any lawyer losing a case will be deemed to have made “preventable errors.” This provision shall be waived upon appeal through a process not to exceed three years. If the appeal is successful, payment will be made no later than two years after judgment.

8. Any lawyer losing three or more cases will be deemed guilty of malpractice and have his or her license revoked. Since losing is a preventable error, there will be no payments to losing lawyers.

9. As we noted in August 2007, “Medicare announced that it will soon stop paying hospitals for the extra costs of treating certain patients whose illnesses are compounded by preventable errors.” A similar provision for the legal community should promote better legal care and, if expanded, should reduce legal costs.

10. From time to time, at the government’s discretion, certain legal specialties will be chosen for exemplary prosecutions.

Finally, the government will ensure that, in all cases, lawyers (either in practice or in one of the three branches of government) are held accountable only by other lawyers.

Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D. ([email protected]) comments on medical-legal issues and is a visiting fellow in economics and citizenship at the International Trade Education Foundation of the Washington International Trade Council. Robert J. Cihak, M.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow and board member of the Discovery Institute and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. A previous version of this column appeared on NewsMax.com on October 16, 2007.