If you have ever seen the movie Mean Girls, then this should make sense: Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) is the Arkansas Senate’s version of Gretchen Wieners. She comes from a background that, at least in her mind, makes her and her family superior to most and entitles her to be part of the “cool” group. Through words and actions, Irvin has repeatedly demonstrated that she wants nothing more than to win the approval of her own particular Regina Georges, which is basically anyone with political power, from her fellow senators and ALEC to lobbyists for doctors and insurance companies.
Viewed through that lens, it is easy to understand Irvin’s actions yesterday following Sen. Stephanie Flowers’ accurate characterization of Sen. Trent Garner (R-Fantasyland) as a “dumbass.”
Despite the fact that Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, presiding over the Senate, had immediately informed Flowers that her comment was inappropriate, and despite Garner’s having spoken for an additional minute or so, during which time he whined about “certain members” having “carte blanche” to hurt his feelings, Irvin was apparently chomping at the bit to show her dedication to decorum. The second Garner stepped from the well, Griffin asked, “Senator Irvin, did you want to bring something to my attention?”
“Yes,” Irvin replied. “Under Rule 9.06, I’d like to make a motion to censor [sic] Senator Flowers for the language and–she made a derogatory comment against one of our existing senators. I don’t think that was appropriate. So I make a motion based on Rule 9.06. That’s inappropriate and needs to stop. My motion is to censor [sic] Senator Flowers for using that language and calling another member of the senate chamber a derogatory name.”
Following discussion between Griffin and other senators, a response from Flowers, and a comment from Griffin that he did not find Rule 9.06 to be “on point in this particular situation,” Irvin pulled her best “I’m such a good friend” and chimed in again.
“I would like to res-pond be-cause we’re to a point where this needs to stop, and it’s inappropriate to use a derogatory term to call one of our senators a name at the well. It’s not right; it needs to stop, and it’s going to be recorded in our senate business that Senator Garner was called a name!” Big “why should Caesar get to stomp around” energy right there.
As ridiculous as Irvin’s feigned outrage might have been, however, her entire “Wait, Regina! Talk to me!” ethos is even more visible when you look at the legislation that she sponsors and co-sponsors. Two recent bills in particular stand out: SB255 and SB289.
SB255, on which Irvin was the primary sponsor, would effectively do away with the collateral-source rule in Arkansas. As it currently stands, if you are injured through medical negligence and you sue the doctor, part of the damages that you can recover are frequently based on the the full amount of the medical bills that you incurred as part of fixing the medical negligence. So, if you and I both incur $100,000 in medical bills through the same kind of medical negligence, we can both seek damages based in part on that $100,000. This is true even if one of us had insurance and the other did not, because the collateral-source rule says that the lawyer defending the negligent doctor cannot use the fact that insurance paid part of your medical bills to try to reduce your award.
The public policy behind such a rule is two-fold. First, a negligent defendant should not benefit just because the victim of their negligence had the foresight and good fortune to have purchased insurance ahead of time. You certainly aren’t allowed to tell a jury that the defendant is covered by insurance, as the law1 assumes that a jury who knows that an insurance company is paying, rather than the defendant personally, may award a higher amount of damages.
“But, wait,” you may be saying. “That means that an injured person might get some kind of double recovery for their medical bills!” Which brings us to the second policy reason for the collateral-source rule: even assuming that is true, that is not unfair to the defendant, since his negligence caused the same injury regardless of whether the injured person was insured. To the extent an insurer should be repaid any money from the insured party’s recovery of damages is governed by the terms of the insurance policy and other state-law provisions, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the negligent defendant from which the damages were recovered.
So…why would Irvin introduce such a bill? There are at least two, and possibly three, reasons.
First, as noted at the beginning, Irvin desperately wants the medical and insurance lobbyists to let her sit with them at lunch. Second, if a person’s monetary damages are limited to what they paid out-of-pocket, the cost to doctors and their malpractice insurance companies goes down, since–thanks to the Obamacare that Irvin has railed against since 2010–most people have some form of medical insurance. A possible third, more devious reason is that Irvin–the daughter and wife of doctors–may be aware that, in states where the collateral-source rule has been abolished, many times medical-negligence plaintiffs will not introduce their medical bills at trial. This strategy makes sense, as it prevents a jury from pegging their overall award to a small number, but it can also backfire and leave a jury without any concrete evidence of what an injury is “worth,” lowering the overall recovery for things like pain and suffering.2
In short, SB255 is Irvin’s attempt to reduce what a negligent doctor’s insurer has to pay simply because you were responsible enough to purchase your own health insurance ahead of time.
At the same time that Irvin is trying to reduce the damages for medical malpractice, she is also a co-sponsor on SB289, which would (a) give doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies the right to refuse to perform or pay for any “healthcare service that violates his, her, or its3 conscience; (b) remove any criminal or civil liability for any doctor, hospital, or insurance company that refuses to perform or pay for a procedure that violates his/her/its conscience; and (c) gives any doctor who is “discriminated against” for refusing to perform a service that violates his or her conscience the right “to recover three times the amount of any damages incurred, including without limitation damages related to: the cost of the civil action and reasonable attorney’s fees,” with that recovery always being at least $7,500 per violation, regardless of the actual damages.
It is tempting to get into the apparent hypocrisy in the juxtaposition of SB255 and SB289. It is certainly jarring to see a legislator go to such lengths to protect doctors–and even medical insurers–at the literal expense of citizens of this state. But, for Irvin, this is not really hypocrisy; it is much worse. It is a snapshot of who she is and what she values. If she can make one more lobbyist, one more insurance company, or one more doctor like her, she will do that in a heartbeat, even if it is bad for her constituents.
You can see this attitude even in her overwrought comments about someone being called a “dumbass” in the senate chamber. “It’s going to be recorded in our senate business that Senator Garner was called a name!” She is not worried about the fact that he was actually called a “dumbass;” she’s worried about that being recorded and making the Senate (and, by extension, her) look bad. Her “outrage” was the Senate equivalent of “I don’t think my father, the inventor of toaster strudel, would be too pleased to hear about this.”
Of course, by the end of the movie, Gretchen was able to stop caring what Regina George thought about her. Thus far, Missy Irvin has shown no such ability for introspection and growth, and she continues to sponsor and co-sponsor bills like the ones discussed above at every chance. So, basically, until Irvin can find her own version of the “cool Asian” table, it is the state of Arkansas that will suffer for it.
Thanks to being lobbied by insurance companies since forever↩
This might be a bit hard to understand. Basically, juries generally like to have some kind of baseline dollars-and-cents number for what a defendant’s negligence “cost” the plaintiff. That baseline can give a jury context, but it also often, whether consciously or unconsciously, provides them with a jumping off point when trying to decide what the pain and suffering associated with an injury is worth. Convincing a jury that pain and suffering were worth $100,000 (for example) is almost always going to be easier if they see $100,000 in medical bills than if they are not presented with medical bills.↩
Pretending like an insurance company has a conscience is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing you will read today.↩