Archive for March, 2013

Medical Malpractice – Dispelling some myths

By admin

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

1.            Too Many “Frivolous” Lawsuits

The reality is that there is not an epidemic of medical negligence lawsuits.   According to researchers at Harvard University, only one in eight people injured by medical negligence files a malpractice claim.[i]

The number of medical negligence filings has steadily declined in the last decade.  Between 1997 and 2006, the number of medical negligence filings dropped eight percent.  For those that do file, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health examined 1,400 closed medical negligence claims and found that 97 percent were meritorious and 80 percent involved death or serious injury.  [ii]  The truth is medical malpractice claims are costly for the plaintiff and long and hard fought cases.   Those that are filed are meritorious and worth the time and money to help the victim.  In the long run, these suits help the system.

2.            Malpractice Myth – Lawsuits Increase Healthcare Costs

One of the principal myths surrounding medical malpractice is its effect on overall health care costs.  Medical malpractice is actually a tiny percentage of health care costs.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, it is less than 2 percent of overall health care spending.

Compare this to the profits of the hospital and insurance industries.  Heath care insurance industry profits rose by 56% in 2009.  The top five for-profit health insurers made $12.2 billion.   Similarly, the medical malpractice insurance industry has also enjoyed remarkable profits in recent years.  The top ten medical malpractice insurance companies made over $1 billion in profit in 2009.  The average profit rate of the top 10 medical malpractice companies was eight times greater than the average for Fortune 500 companies.[iii]

One real and undisputed driver of health care costs that can and should be reduced is medical error.  Each year, 98,000 people die from preventable medical errors in American hospitals, adding $29 billion in additional costs to the U.S. health care system.

3.            Tort reform and Insurance Rates

Tort reforms are passed under the guise that they will lower physicians’ liability premiums.  This does not happen.  While insurers do pay out less money when damage awards are capped, they do not pass the savings along to doctors by lowering premiums.  Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) report that malpractice payments made on behalf of physicians do not seem to be the driving force behind increases in premiums. [iv]  There is little variance in premium levels between states that cap damages and those that do not.  In fact, in 2009, the average liability premium in states without caps on damages was lower than the average premium in states with caps on damages.[v]  The way to keep down cost and effect medical errors is not to reform the legal system by depriving injured patients of just compensation from companies that have   agreed to insure doctors for risk.



[i] Too Err is Human, Institute of Medicine, November 1999..

[ii] Claims, Errors & Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation, New England Journal Of Medicine, May 11, 2006.

[iii] Congressional Budget Office, October 9, 2009

[iv] Adverse Events in Hospitals: National Incidence Among Medicare Beneficiaries, Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, November 2010.

[v] Annual Report, 2006, National Practitioner Databank.

Medical Malpractice – Protecting Your Rights

By admin

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

The Institute of Medicine has determined that 98,000 people in the United States die each year from preventable medical errors.   Only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans.[i]

Despite this fact, instead of focusing on ways to reduce medical errors, lawmakers introduce bills to restrict patient rights, cap damages, provide immunity to doctors and limit the ability of attorneys to cases.  Medical errors typically require additional and lengthy medical treatment which results in higher medical costs.  Preventing medical mistakes will dramatically lower health-care costs, reduce doctor’s insurance premiums and protect the health care and well-being of patients.

Medical malpractice lawsuits serve an important role in protecting patient safety.    Evidence suggests that lessening accountability has a detrimental effect on patient safety and health-care quality.  A study from the American College of Emergency Physicians found that safety improves when injured patients can hold negligent hospitals, physicians and/or nursing homes accountable.  States with aggressive legislation limiting patient access to the legal system are also the states that score lowest in patient safety.  In fact, the 10 states doctors claim to have the best liability environment (more tort reform) have a D+ score for patient safety.  In contrast, the 10 states that doctors claim have the worst liability environment have a B- for patient safety.   It is clear it is not caps on damages, doctor immunity or limitations on lawsuits that is necessary for lower healthcare costs and patient safety.

 



[i] Deborah Bozarth, Trenton Talk, New Jersey Association for Justice, March 2013