Blame It on the Lawyers

I had a debate last night at Thoreau Middle School in Vienna with State Senator Davis.  It was well-attended and both campaigns were out in force. 

There was one interesting exchange that deserves some comment.

The moderator asked us a question about the tragedy at Virginia Tech and how we could improve the ability for schools to obtain their students’ mental health records.

I spoke first and discussed the need to treat mental illness as a disease and the importance of full disclosure of this student information as a matter of public safety. 

Senator Devolites-Davis went next.  To her, the question was an opportunity to bash trial lawyers, because ….. well, I’m a trial lawyer in Fairfax and many lawyers are supporting me.

According to her, the fear of lawsuits under the Federal law “HIPAA” caused the problem.  Trial lawyers sue people under this law and, therefore, doctors are afraid to share information.  These trial lawyers are “running the show.”  And they support Chap.

Because of the political activity of trial lawyers, she said, “we see the cost … we saw a real cost in this.”  The meaning of “this” in that sentence was clearly the massacre at Virginia Tech. 

Wow.  First of all, the “HIPAA” law (Health Insurance Portablility and Access Act) ensures the confidentiality of medical records, not student records.  The law had no impact on the ability of Virginia Tech to get Cho’s student records from Centreville High School. 

Secondly, nobody makes money off HIPAA.  According to the Washington Post, the Bush administration received nearly 20,000 grievances under HIPAA in its first three years.  Not a single one led to a civil fine.  Not one.

Third, the lawyers of this nation have done good things and bad things.  But one thing is sure — we did not cause the tragedy at Virginia Tech.  Period.

It’s one thing to make an inaccurate statement during a debate.  That happens.  It’s another thing to blame the tragedy at Virginia Tech (even implicitly) on a profession of people who had no connection with it. 

P.S.  We are working on a You Tube clip of this statement.  This is based on my notes.  

P.P.S.  Here is the YouTube link.  From my notes, the question was:  “In light of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, how will can we improve access to student records, particularly involving mental health?”


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