by Jack Faris, President & CEO of NFIB

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2000 -- A true story: A little over one year ago, a friend of mine inadvertently overheard an interesting conversation at a restaurant in Washington, DC. The conversation took place among a group of trial lawyers, most likely in town for some kind of meeting or convention. The first lawyer was pontificating about tobacco lawsuits and what kind of money could be made in that arena when suddenly one of his colleagues cut him off mid-stream and said, "Forget about tobacco! Our real money is going to come from the HMOS." He was clearly forecasting the future after the Patients' Bill of Rights becomes law.

I was chilled by this story. And you should be, too.

I was chilled even though I already knew that the Patients' Bill of Rights had the potential to increase the cost of health insurance and therefore increase the ranks of the 44 million-plus uninsured Americans. I already knew that it was like so many other pieces of legislation in Washington, DC- written with the intention to help, but the ability to hurt.

And as a representative of small business owners, I'd already taken a keen interest in the raft of legal studies confirming that, under the Dingell-Norwood bill passed by the House last year, trial lawyers could not only sue health plans but also the employers who sponsor them. And I know that even a frivolous lawsuit has the potential to put a small firm out of business.

I also know enough small employers to know that many would not continue to put themselves in a high-risk situation for doing nothing more than voluntarily providing their employees with health-care coverage. Many would instead stop offering health insurance to their workers altogether.

But although I knew, and know, all this... I didn't know that the trial bar was so far ahead of the game that they were already looking forward to making money off of legislation that was allegedly designed to help people!I suppose I should not have been surprised.

What does this desire to sue and to make money have to do with patients' rights? Nothing. What does it have to do with helping those who can't afford health insurance? Nothing. What does it have to do with greed? Everything.

While America's frustration with managed care is legitimate, lawsuits aren't the way to improve health care, and trial lawyers know it. Lawsuits are the way for lawyers to make money. Period.

And now I am reading about how much money trial lawyers are spending on this year's elections... millions and millions of dollars to help their pro-litigation friends get elected to Congress. Some lawyers are running for office themselves, funding their own campaigns with up to $5 million of their own dollars! For them, it is an investment. The return, they hope,will be the power to make even more money than they are currently 'investing.'

So if you ever wonder whether trial lawyers are interested in your ability to afford quality health care or simply their ability to line their own wallets and buy politicians, please remember what my friend heard. And before you throw your support behind the "Patients' Bill of Rights," please remember that it has been carefully crafted to more closely resemble a"Lawyers' Right to Bill."

Publications are encouraged to re-print these columns in their entirety.Please ensure that the following credit information is included in re-prints:"Jack Faris is president of NFIB, the nation's largest small business advocacy group. A non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1943, NFIB represents the consensus views of its 600,000 members in Washington, D.C., and all 50state capitals. More information is available on-line at"

CONTACT: Jean Card, NFIB Special assistant to the President at 202.314.2018