Articles Posted in Health Care Reform

In direct contradiction to claims that medical malpractice caps are necessary on pain and suffering in order to reduce the costs of doctors practicing “defensive medicine, ” a recent study released in the policy journal Health Affairs found that many of the popular proposals suggested for reducing medical malpractice are unrelated to the practice of defensive medicine. In fact, capping damages for “pain and suffering” would do little to reduce defensive medicine spending.

The study found that although defensive medicine spending is less than 2 percent of annual health care spending, the author stated “we’re spending a large amount of money every year on a system that’s deeply flawed … Many injured patients never get compensated at all.” A second study in the issue noted found that any savings to be gleaned from tort reform would be low.

Capping damages for pain and suffering was not associated with a significant difference in the physicians’ perceived risk of malpractice claims.

With medical errors occurring in nearly 10% of all inpatient surgeries, capping damages only serves to further harm those injured by medical negligence.

As New Mexico attorneys concerned about medical malpractice, we believe more emphasis should be placed on reducing medical errors, such as missed diagnosis, birth injuries, and surgical errors. As this recent study illustrates, misplaced arguments about “defensive spending” do little to improve what matters most – patient safety.
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Last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced millions of dollars in grants to states to address medical malpractice. These grants will go to state health departments, universities and medical centers for demonstration projects designed to reduce injuries, decrease the numbers of lawsuits, improve doctor/patient communication and lower liability insurance premiums.

These funds were approved after recent studies show that despite calls of a lawsuit crisis and insurance crisis – the real issue is way too much medical malpractice exists causing catastrophic injuries. Preventable medical negligence may occur because of untrained/unsupervised residents making prescription errors. It may occur when a small handful of doctors act negligently and states fail to adequately discipline them. Negligence may occur when communication fails between hospital staff.

Medical negligence does not occur as the result of lawyers bringing lawsuits.

Much of the recently approved grant money will go toward programs designed to improve patient safety such as improving communication. However, monies will also go towards programs focused on early disclosure and compensation. Although prompt attention to malpractice claims can be beneficial, models emphasizing early disclosure and settlement of cases often fail to address the root cause of malpractice and provide inadequate compensation to the victims of gross negligence.
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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 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.
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