New Zealand offers hope

One of the longer running political hot potatoes has been tort reform. Talk to anyone in the GOP and they will tell you we are going to Hell in a basket because every time anything goes wrong, a gang of attorneys jumps out of the undergrowth and starts suing the pants off you. Needless to say, the liberals think the willingness of attorneys to sue protects consumers. Where would we be without someone to claim if we fall ill after eating food in a restaurant, or we think we are braking only to find our vehicle speeding on out of control? This makes for a wonderful battleground, particularly in the area of healthcare where doctors are only too keen to protect their reputations and prevent anyone from realizing how many mistakes they make. So, the GOP promises it will ringfence attorneys and either limit the scope of the law, or cap the amount of damages the courts can award. The Democrats promise more consumer protection laws. Against this background, it’s interesting to compare what happens elsewhere. And you can’t get anymore elsewhere than New Zealand. In fact, apart from knowing it’s an island country, most people have no idea where it is. Anyway, these primitives have two major differences to note. It starts with a no-fault approach to insurance. There’s no fighting over the question of liability. The only issue that comes before the courts is to fix the amount of compensation payable to the victims of loss. Can’t see this being adopted in the home of litigation. Second, they actually research how well drugs work after they are licensed and release for sale. What a shocker! Most recently, they have been looking at people taking the major acne drug, following their health for six years. As is required, all the participants had severe acne that had refused to yield to any other treatment. They all took the drug at a significantly lower dosage than usually prescribed, i.e. it was about 0.25mg for each kg of their weight. Only 3.5% were affected by side effects and a mere thirteen people stopped taking the drug. In the US, Accutane is considered the biggest mixed blessing in town with an unbeatable reputation for effectiveness and major problems with side effects. In fact, there are multiple class actions working their way through the courts claiming massive amounts of money from the manufacturer. Perhaps this should not be surprising because the drug started off its active life as chemotherapy for various cancers. That it also clears up acne was a very unexpected side effect. No matter how the litigation is resolved, the findings of the New Zealand research should trigger a new look by the FDA. If these primitives are correct and this drug is effective at very low dosage without side effects, this is something we should act on. Just one point of clarification, the New Zealand research does not dispute the probability of birth defects if a woman uses the drug while pregnant. Even at low dosage, the risk is unacceptable.

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