December 2, 2009
On Monday, the U.S. Senate began debating the historical health care plan designed to reform the nation's health care system by changing the way insurance companies do business. Senator Henry Reid's (D-Nev) bill will provide much needed reform and assistance to the millions of Americans who pay exorbitant fees for health care coverage, are denied coverage or who receive inadequate health care coverage. But critics - including medical malpractice defense attorneys, insurance companies and hospitals - seek to prevent passage of this historic measure by arguing that health reform must also include "tort reform." These naysayers argue that in order to adequately address health care reform, we must also cap damages in medical malpractice actions (which would limit the amount awarded to the catastrophically injured as a result of physician and hospital negligence.) However, studies have shown that capping medical malpractice awards has little overall effect on the cost of health care. In fact, New Mexico has some of the least restrictive tort reform laws and also ranks as one of the lowest states in health care costs. Limiting the amount those who have been catastrophically injured may recover due to physician malpractice, human error and hospital negligence shifts the financial burden from those who caused the injury to those suffering the consequences. Those individuals become victims twice - first as a result of medical negligence and second as a result of the court system denying their right to adequate compensation. Further, tort reformers' claims that physicians' fear of lawsuits - so called "defensive medicine"- has contributed to the overall cost of health care have been greatly exaggerated. Studies show that the costs of physicians practicing "defensive medicine" have little if any impact on the overall cost of healthcare.
What has not been exaggerated is the ultimate price patients pay because of doctor error: 98,000 people die every year in hospitals as a result of preventable medical errors. As New Mexico medical malpractice attorneys we believe our focus should be on improving patient safety, not limiting the rights of patients who have been injured through no fault of their own. We need to be arguing for real health care reform - providing health care access to those who need it, preventing patient injuries and allowing those injured to receive just compensation. Continued delays in passing health care reform only benefits the insurance companies, not the people of New Mexico.