Lawsuit won’t make patients safer

As a 61-year resident of Las Vegas and a licensed Nevada attorney for 37 years, I love our state and the many professionals and leaders who have created and maintained our quality of life.

However, local lawyers are casting a net far too wide at the expense of Nevadans and our health care system.

Once again, the platform for trial lawyers is the alleged wrongdoing at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, which resulted in about 100 Las Vegas residents being infected with hepatitis C, and left one patient dead.

The trial attorneys are bringing the same case again, but this time against a new target: Health Plan of Nevada, which insured two of the victims. The case has grave implications for the health care of all Nevadans.

In a May 2010 editorial headlined “Greed, not justice,” the editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal pointed out that responsibility for the medical malpractice and alleged criminal activity that victimized so many rests squarely on the shoulders of Dr. Dipak Desai and the members of his staff. Their decisions to share medication vials, syringes and improperly sterilized equipment caused these unspeakable horrors and are the subject of a criminal trial scheduled for this spring.

In the editorial, the Review-Journal forecast the future detriments that multiple multimillion dollar jury awards, such as the estimated $270 million decision against Teva Pharmaceuticals and its distributor, Baxter, would have on Nevada’s health care system and its patients: “(The) costs are shared by everyone … through higher costs on goods and services. This particular case — and the outbreak-related trials that will follow it — certainly will have the effect of making health care more expensive.”

Indeed. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Nevada suffered the highest annual growth in health care costs from 1980 to 2009, the latest year for which data are available.

This is not to minimize the deeply personal impact the hepatitis outbreak had on the victims and our community. Health Plan of Nevada has been and continues to be outraged by the terrible acts that were committed against its members and has expressed its deepest sympathies to the victims and their families.

But as trial attorneys seek to cash in yet again on the hepatitis tragedy, the price they may exact will be paid by all of us. Personally, I don’t want my health insurer to be forced to interfere with my medical care, if this case results in health insurers also becoming malpractice insurers.

Sadly, this case against a health insurer won’t make any of us safer as patients, nor will it result in doctors providing better care — it will only make care less affordable for all of us. It may line the pockets of a few privileged professionals, but at what cost to the people of Nevada? Our state already has the second-highest uninsured rate (22 percent) in the United States today, and cases like this will only make it worse.

And the quality of our lives in Nevada will also be worse for it.

Attorney Peter Bernhard is counsel for Health Plan of Nevada. The current trial is before Clark County District Judge Timothy C. Williams.

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