Saturday, December 12, 2009

Biting the Hand That Heals

/24-7/ The nation's health care system is a popular topic of discussion, and the hot-button issue within is the idea that an abundance of medical lawsuits are responsible for the increase in health care costs.

It's a dilemma - while preventable medical errors are a leading cause of injury and death, and many wronged patients never gain reparations - too many devoted physicians live and work in fear of the consequences they may face due to false claims made against them.

Enter Tort Reform

Tort reform would make it more difficult to sue doctors and obtain large judgments, usually by putting a cap on the amount a plaintiff can receive in punitive damages, and would limit the liability damages of physicians and insurance companies. Missouri capped non-economic damages at $350,000 in 2005, which some doctors claim has prompted a welcome reduction in their insurance rates.

Defensive Medicine

Some argue that such reform would reduce the threat of liability that can drive doctors to prescribe costly tests and procedures, protecting them from lawsuits, even though the tests and procedures are often medically unnecessary. Studies show that this "defensive medicine" accounts for about 3 percent, or about $60 billion a year, of overall medical spending. Reliable studies also place the cost of malpractice litigation at just 2 percent of overall health care costs. But any discussion regarding reform should focus on reducing malpractice, not just reducing malpractice claims.

The Institute for Medicine estimates that more than 98,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of preventable medical errors. The reluctance of many hospitals and state governments to properly address and report these occurrences often results in patients seeking justice the only way possible-by going to court.

Moving Forward

The Obama administration has said it will provide grants of up to $3 million to states and health systems that investigate new ways of handling medical liability claims. "Tort reform's impact is significant-meaning we can measure it-but significant and small," says Leemore Dafny, who has been among the economic experts sharing recommendations with senior members of the Obama administration. She adds: "We've done some tests and it turns out that it's not going to be a huge fix."

Any attempt to make adjustments to the health care system structure would ideally strike a balance - as a patient's right to seek justice in court is diminished, the measures to prevent medical errors from occurring should be strengthened. Providers need incentives to offer cost-effective care, while patients need to trust that the judicial system will properly deal with providers who are negligent. While tort reform may not be the ultimate "silver bullet" solution, it opens up a discussion that requires the action to dig deeper and investigate further.

Article provided by Warner Law Offices PA

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1 comment:

  1. I support any mechanism to reduce medical malpractice; but the current system doesn't accomplish this. At present, innocent physicians are ensnared in the system, billions of dollars of defensivie medicine are being wasted and most truly injured patients are not captured by the system. We can do better. See under Legal Quality.


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