Many Republications believe a malpractice crisis is threatening health care in the United States. However, experts say this is not the case and that there has been no such “crisis” in more than 10 years. “It’s a wonderful time for doctors looking for coverage and it’s never been better for insurers,” said Michael Matray, editor of Medical Liability Monitor, a trade publication. Doctors are, in fact, paying less for malpractice insurance than they did in 2001 — without any inflation adjustment and the rate of claims has dropped by half since 2003.
Despite these facts, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Tom Price, the incoming Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, want to boldly reform the malpractice system, saying hundreds of billions are wasted on “lawsuit abuse” and defensive medicine.
As top Republicans see it, frivolous lawsuits are driving up malpractice insurance premiums and forcing physicians out of business. They claim doctors and hospitals live in fear of litigation, ordering excessive tests and treatments that make health care unaffordable for Americans. In order to lower insurance premiums and costs, proponents of Tort Reform want to set caps on the amount an injured patient is able to recover if they are successful in a medical malpractice case. This means that no matter how badly a patient is hurt, or even if the patient dies because of medical malpractice, the plaintiff could only recover a limited amount of money, which in many cases does not fully compensate them for their injuries.
More than 30 states across America have some form of cap on damages in malpractice lawsuits to control litigation and awards with helping to contain costs.
As we wrote here last July, “(Here in Indiana) Governor Pence signed a bill approving an increase to the state’s cap on medical malpractice damages. The new law would raise the cap to $1.65 million in 2017 and $1.8 million in 2019. Indiana’s new law continues to cover both economic and non-economic damages.”
It is widely believed that one of the reasons the cap was increased was the growing concern among the medical and insurance community that the Indiana Courts might find the low value caps unconstitutional as the caps were clearly depriving many plaintiffs from being fully compensated for their injuries. Despite the increases to the cap, many victims of medical malpractice will continue to be undercompensated for the injuries they sustained.
“It’s a time of relative calm and this hasn’t been a front burner issue or crisis,” said Nicholas Pace, a researcher who studies the civil justice system at the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank. “But now Republicans see an opportunity to make changes they have wanted for a long time as they replace Obamacare.”
The savings claimed by proponents of malpractice caps is vastly overstated, experts say. They warn that many of these Republicans risk going too far in reducing consumer access to the justice system and fair compensation for medical mistakes.
Some academics and consumer advocates say the GOP political agenda isn’t addressing the bigger goal of reducing overall patient harm. This year, researchers estimated that medical errors claim more than 250,000 lives annually, which would make it the nation’s third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.
“What strikes me about these current proposals is that they really represent the agenda of medical professionals, which is all about limiting liability,” said Michelle Mello, a Stanford University law professor and health researcher. “To take any malpractice reform seriously, it has to offer something to improve the situation of patients and lead to safer outcomes.”
Researchers caution that caps are hardly the only factor in keeping premiums down, saying economic cycles and insurers’ investment returns are also important forces. And they note that courts have struck down caps in some states as ineffective or unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ lawyers say damage caps make them reluctant to take on cases, given the money often required for expert witnesses and trial preparation.
The caps “have some modest effects on costs, but it comes at a price of people being able to access the civil justice system,” Mello said.
Caps on noneconomic damages for “pain and suffering” can also disproportionately hurt women and the elderly, who more often can’t get significant economic damages because they aren’t big wage earners. Given all the competing assertions and proposals out there, and differing views even among Republicans, health policy experts urge a cautious approach on tort reform.
While we at Theodoros & Rooth can be sympathetic with some of the challenges of today’s doctors – most of which are honest and competent – our concerns are with those who seriously injure or even cause death to patients through irresponsible and negligent care.
More attention needs to be paid to the victims. Certain caps and strict controls on compensation for innocent malpractice victims often don’t even pay for a fraction of the treatment that is needed – sometimes for a lifetime. Not to mention that no amount of money can replace the loss of a loved one.
Our team at Theodoros & Rooth takes such matters very seriously. We have over 110 years combined experience representing victims of personal injury caused by the irresponsibility of incompetent doctors, hospitals and other medical personnel. We fight aggressively for the highest level of compensation to those whose lives will just never be the same. If we can help you, call us now. There is never a fee until a case is resolved.
This article was written from sources including: Kaiser Health News, CNN, Washington Post, in.gov