Medical laissez-faire

“At least 15 drug and medical device companies have paid $6.5 billion since 2008 to settle accusations of marketing fraud or kickbacks,” reports the Washington Post. These kickbacks were typically paid to the doctors who prescribed the drugs. Yet, reports the Post, “not one of the doctors has been prosecuted or disqualified by state medical boards.”

This reminds me of the time when I was approached by a local physician after I’d written several items expressing skepticism about some of the lawyers who bring medical malpractice cases. The doctor thought I might become an ally in opposing these lawsuits. I told him I was ready to support replacing malpractice litigation with a system of no-fault compensation for injured patients, but that I had one reservation: without the threat of lawsuits, I saw no way of punishing unethical or incompetent physicians, who, to my knowledge, were rarely (meaning very close to never) disciplined by their local medical societies or state licensing boards. I said it was a problem that could be solved by adding enough independent members to the doctor-dominated groups that govern accountability in the medical profession. If physicians would support such a reform, I said, I would be glad to join their effort. I never heard from that doctor again.

Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.