The main justification for single payer seems to be that access to affordable quality health care is a right. Nowhere in our constitution does it say that anyone has a “right” to individual services or property. Housing, food, health care, even cell phones have become “rights.” What our constitution does say is that each citizen does have the right to equal protection under the law, equal access to the courts and equal opportunity to achieve justice. Yet, we have a legal system where justice is dependent on the talents of attorneys, and they are largely still in the private sector.
Think about this for a moment. You get accused of a felony. All of the resources of whatever government has brought the accusation is brought down upon you. You get your day in court. But to get justice, you must drain your personal resources by hiring a private attorney. True, there is legal aid, but we all know the best defense attorneys cost big money. It should be no surprise that the “rich” are more likely to get off, while the poor wind up in prison.
Or consider this. You have property that the state wishes to seize for the public good. Once again, the state brings down all their resources while you may have to sell the property to pay the legal fees to try and keep it — no justice there.
It’s not much better on the civil tort side. Because a private attorney can sue for the most nebulous of reasons, everyone from homeowners to business people have to pay through the nose to purchase liability insurance from a private carrier so that they can hire another private attorney to defend you. If you don’t think this is a bit of a racket, see how cordial plaintiff and defense attorneys are outside the courtroom.
Fortunately, there is an answer to all this! I propose having National Legal Insurance. Let’s call it NLI. There is certainly more constitutional grounding for this compared to national health insurance since equal access to justice is indeed a constitutional right.
With national legal insurance, all attorneys are government employees. The criminal side is easy. You get arrested and accused of a crime. Your case gets sent to both the prosecution and defense divisions of national legal insurance, and attorneys are assigned. No private attorneys allowed. The attorneys must accept all cases, but if you do not like yours, you may request another. No billable hours. Now the richest billionaire and the poorest ghetto dweller get the same defense. What can be fairer than that?
The civil side is bit more complicated but doable. There are now no advertisements for toxic torts, no cold calling or ambulance chasing. Someone with a beef now goes to their local, national legal insurance office and files a complaint. Once reviewed if the office finds no fault, it is dropped. If it is deemed valid that both plaintiff and defense attorneys are assigned.
Depositions are still taken with each attorney acting as the advocate for their client. After this is all done, the case is then brought before the resolutions division of national legal insurance where the case is heard purely on its merit. Monetary damages if needed are then determined. No juries needed. Even mass torts could be handled better as national legal insurance could easily contact every citizen who may have a similar complaint.
Different divisions of the national legal insurance can handle everything from wills to contracts. What is most important is that the government can assure equal access to low-cost, quality legal care. Costs can be controlled by immediately weeding out baseless cases and controlling the salaries of all those overpaid attorneys. Quality can be maintained by all attorneys using meticulous, government-approved electronic records and lawyers getting re-certified every ten years or so.
Lawyers would be evaluated on the basis of the outcome and anonymous client satisfaction scores. If a client gives a less than a three-star rating, the attorney’s salary gets cut. Also, since this is totally government controlled, it is the perfect place to achieve diversity. The government can make sure that each client is comfortable by assigning only white attorneys for white clients, blacks for blacks, Asians for Asians, even transgendered for the transgendered. The benefits of affirmative action could be fully realized.
I know all of this is just a dream, but clearly, it is time to seriously consider National Legal Insurance. Common decency dictates this to be so. We will figure out how to pay for this later.
Thomas D. Guastavino is an orthopedic surgeon.
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