Patients, Consumers and the 99%

On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Once inaugurated, he will join with the 115th Congress, sworn in earlier this month, to create the first, entirely Republican government in Washington DC in more than ten years. As this new government takes shape, it is expected to enact many new policies, laws and regulations that will have a lasting impact on the judicial system here in Chicago. This blog post attempts to look at three key areas where Republicans may hope to reshape policy in the coming year.

Healthcare: Republicans ran on a platform vowing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare. Earlier this month, the new Congress began to make good on that vow by setting up a process through which Congress can quickly repeal President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The reality of the situation, however, is much murkier. While Republicans can use their slim majority in the Senate to repeal the ACA with a simple majority vote, replacing the law will require a filibuster proof majority of 60 votes, eight of which must come from Democrats. Without a viable path to replace the law, a simple repeal could create a massive problem for the more than 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA for their healthcare coverage. Such a repeal, without a replacement law, could also end popular provisions of the ACA such as the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, ban on lifetime caps and the ability of parents to keep their children on their health plan until the children reach the age of 26.

Republicans have also vowed to try and make it harder for victims of medical malpractice to succeed in lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. On December 30, 2016, the Washington Post published an article titled, “Top Republicans say there’s a medical malpractice crisis. Experts say there isn’t.” As the article notes, despite medical malpractice insurance premiums being at their lowest rate in more than 15 years (even when adjusted for inflation), Speaker Paul Ryan and Health and Human Service Secretary nominee Tom Price are aiming to pass tort reform measures that would cap all non-economic damages at $250,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits (for a detailed explanation of why we believe these caps are a horrible idea, please see our earlier blog posts). Additionally, as the Post articles notes, Price plans to propose more drastic measures such as rules that “require patients to prove gross negligence by doctors, a higher legal standard than in civil court, and would create panels of medical experts to screen cases for merit.”

Consumer Protections: In 2010, the Democratic Congress and President Barack Obama passed the Consumer Protection Financial Protection Bureau (CPFPB). The CPFPB was given broad authority to police banks, businesses, credit card companies and other financial institutions that attempted to take advantage of consumers. Since the CPFPB began operating in 2011, the bureau has been successful in curbing abuses by filing lawsuits against for-profit colleges, student loan providers, and most recently, banking giant Wells Fargo who was fined a record $185 million dollars for opening more than two million phony customer accounts without customer permission.

Under the new government, this could all change. As The Consumerist analyzed on November 11, 2016, while it would be very hard for the Congress to completely abolish the bureau due to the Democrats ability to filibuster in the Senate, Republicans have vowed to chip away piecemeal at the CPFPB’s authority and to pass legislation aimed at delaying “enforcement of rules on payday lending and forced arbitration.”

Two other areas in which Republican’s are expected to creating sweeping policy changes are through their new ability to appoint representatives to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These representatives may ease government oversight of corporate mergers and acquisitions, take a softer, less restrictive approach to policing and regulating monopolies and roll back some of the recent rules that mandated net neutrality or cable reform by telecommunications companies.

Supreme Court: In the last year of President Obama’s presidency, Republicans refused to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland (a law school classmate of attorney Valerie Leopold) to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat left following the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. Now, with control of the Presidency and the Senate, Mr. Trump is expected to nominate a conservative justice in the mold of Mr. Scalia to keep a conservative balance of power on the Supreme Court. This will have a massive effect on all corners of government and the justice system as important cases dealing with mandatory arbitration, congressional redistricting, voting rights, civil rights and privacy are expected to come before the Supreme Court in the coming year. The results of these upcoming rulings will shape our justice system and country for decades to come.

Now more than ever, is the time for those individuals dedicated to protecting the rights of patients, consumers, and the 99% to participate in local government and organizations. Be heard!