Came across a great article in the Observer. Here’s my rambling summary:
The insurance industry has convinced more than half the states to pass medical malpractice “tort reform” legislation. Their tactics? Cash-in-fist lobbying plus promises that restricting medical malpractice suits would cause doctors’ insurance premiums to plummet. This would in turn lower health care costs and improve healthcare.
The only problem is it turns out the insurance lobby sold us a bill of goods. Every study ever done since tort reform (I have read most) was enacted has shown little or no gains in the area of insurance premium reduction or medical care cost reduction.
For example, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina have made it virtually impossible to sue doctors or hospitals for emergency room treatment. The insurance lobby promised that this would prevent so-called “defensive medicine” (doctors ordering expensive tests and imaging to protect themselves from accusations of malpractice) in the ER room. But a recent study examined 3.8 million emergency department visits at 1166 hospitals between 1996 and 2012. The ER doctors in the tort-reform states–who were virtually immune to malpractice suits–prescribed just as many MRIs and CAT scans as doctors in the control states. Removing the risk of getting sued didn’t put a dent in so-called “defensive medicine”.
The insurance companies, though, have pocketed huge profits from their savings. They have benefited from their “reforms” while we have not. In fact, the average Joe – and all medical malpractice victims — have had to pay a big price. An avalanche of evidence shows that hospitals are very dangerous places because of careless medicine. Close to a million patients are killed (and many more injured) in hospitals each year due to medical errors. This number dwarfs even automobile and workplace deaths. And the number doesn’t even include deaths in doctors’ offices or clinics (like the one Joan Rivers recently died in). And guess what – if hospitals and doctors don’t have to fear medical malpractice lawsuits, they have no incentive to improve.
The truth is that the most powerful engine ever invented to improve safety in our hospitals is the unfettered medical malpractice lawsuit. For example, there is compelling proof that safety reforms in anesthesiology in the 1980’s were spurred by a spree of large malpractice verdicts. To avoid paying out such claims, anesthesiologists improved their safety. They established mandatory monitoring, implemented more training, limited the number of hours anesthesiologists could work without rest, revamped machines and installed safety devices on them. Within a decade, the mortality rate from anesthesia dropped from 1 in 6000 administrations to 1 in 200,000. And anesthesiologists’ malpractice insurance rates fell to among the lowest of any specialty.
We all pay the price for medical malpractice tort reform. Hospitals and doctors’ offices stay unsafe – or become even more unsafe. Doctors’ insurers reap the profits. Medical malpractice tort reform works for them, but certainly not for the rest of us.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central NY Medical Malpractice Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.