Declining Patient Rights And Medical Malpractice Reform
Payments For Doctor Negligence
In 2001, there were nearly 16,000 payments for doctor negligence; 2011 marked the 10th straight year that number declined, down to just shy of 8,500. The 47 percent drop in the number of payments has not coincided with a significant drop in the number of medical malpractice injuries or in health care costs passed onto consumers. Fewer than 8,500 doctor negligence payments were made despite the fact that roughly 1.5 million people die or are injured due to medical errors every year. The tort reform movement has made it much more difficult for the countless people harmed by negligent doctors and hospitals to obtain compensation for their injuries. It has had no noticeable impact on the skyrocketing costs of health care.
The largest impact of tort reform is that insurance companies are earning incredible profits. In fact, the top 10 medical malpractice insurers have an average profit margin that is double that of 50 of the most profitable Fortune 500 companies. Limiting the rights of the sick and injured while inflating the already stunning profits of insurance companies is the real outcome of tort reform.
Improving Patient Safety Should Be The Goal
Doctors and hospitals looking to reduce the number of medical malpractice cases against them should stop lobbying legislatures to restrict an injured person’s right to collect compensation. Instead, they should focus their efforts on improving their practices to protect patients from harm in the first place. Medical malpractice claims are not about expecting doctors to do the impossible. Malpractice occurs when doctors, hospitals and other health care providers fail to meet the accepted standards of their profession. Thousands of patients die every year because these standards are not met. No other industry tolerates such a woeful safety record.
By making victims of medical malpractice and the attorneys who represent them into the “bad guy,” insurance companies have been able to charge exorbitant premiums and force taxpayers to cover the expenses of seriously injured people. When a family receives the maximum compensation allowed under the law and finds that it covers only a small percentage of their actual medical expenses, the rest of the cost is transferred to taxpayers through government programs such as Medicaid. The real culprits escape justice and the incentive to provide better care next time is reduced.
No Shortage Of Doctors
In addition to the rising cost of health care, the people who advocate for medical malpractice caps often claim that the caps are necessary to keep enough doctors in the state. There is no evidence supporting the claim that doctors will leave a state or stop practicing medicine in the absence of such a cap. Data gathered by the American Medical Association shows that the number of doctors per capita continues to rise and that states that have enacted damage caps have not improved in the quality or quantity of medical service providers. If doctors who are known hazards for medical malpractice claims are driven out by a lack of caps, the state is sure to benefit from an improved standard of care.
The insurance industry is one of the most powerful lobbying influences in the world. It has largely had its way for more than a decade now. In that time, medical costs have not dropped to manageable levels. Patients have not received improved care. Doctors have not seen the massive drops in insurance premiums they were promised. All of this spells significant trouble for the future of the industry and for victims of medical malpractice. Any measure that limits injured people’s right to collect compensation for harm done to them through negligence should be weighed carefully. Few if any of us would choose to trade places with victims of medical malpractice.