Another Interesting Article on the Medical Malpractice Debate

The NY Times published this piece by David Leonhardt, which I believe does a great job of avoiding the emotion of the subject and examining the matter on the facts alone.  Tort reform is on everyone’s lips as we discuss changes to our health care system, but there is no valid reason why.  Our health system is a mess for a number of reasons, the least of which is the plaintiff bar.  Mr. Leonhardt cites economists who say:

The direct costs of malpractice lawsuits — jury awards, settlements and the like — are such a minuscule part of health spending that they barely merit discussion…

…All told, jury awards, settlements and administrative costs — which, by definition, are similar to the combined cost of insurance — add up to less than $10 billion a year. This equals less than one-half of a percentage point of medical spending.

I have made the point in previous posts, that very few medical malpractice cases are accepted by attorneys and/or go to trial.  The high cost of a lawsuit and the difficulty in proving medical malpractice prohibits excessive lawsuits.  Mr. Leonhardt supports my opinion:

After reviewing thousands of patient records, medical researchers have estimated that only 2 to 3 percent of cases of medical negligence lead to a malpractice claim.

Contrary to the perception of some, we do not have a court system backlogged with frivilous medical malpractice lawsuits which are causing the death of our health care system.  The number of cases and costs attributed to medical malpractice litigation is astonishingly low in comparison to the total cost of our health care system.

Mr. Leonhardt does criticize the current system by pointing out that fear of malpractice leads to defensive medicine which is often wasteful.  Unfortunately, there is no solution to combatting defensive medicine.  States that have medical malpractice caps, or other legislation meant to curb litigation, often have similar amounts of spending.  One reason could be that doctors are paid more for doing more, and the excess testing and treatment is as much financial opportunism as it is defensive medicine.

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3 responses to “Another Interesting Article on the Medical Malpractice Debate”

  1. doctorblue says:

    Talk of the threat of medical malpractice claims and awards as a major reason for the high cost of medical care is nothing more than another way to derail any real health care reform. I can’t understand why no one is focusing on the psychological effects that medical insurance company practices have on the way doctors practice medicine. One doctor tailored one of my diagnoses to “non-specific colitis” rather than “ulcerative colitis,” he said, so as to prevent my medical insurance from being cancelled. Then he treated me with Asacol, medicine prescribed to treat those with ulcerative colitis. I have several examples of doctors “downgrading” medical findings and ignoring positive lab test results due to feared repercussions of insurance companies delaying their payments or because the reimbursement from the insurance company wouldn’t fully compensate them for the time they would need to spend to analyze my condition. I became disabled as a result. The experiences are interspersed in my portrayals at http://doctorblue.wordpress.com. I never filed a warranted medical malpractice claim because I didn’t have any money left after spending it fruitlessly on doctors and tests to get well. Even the few attorneys who take cases on contingency rightfully require the injured party to pay thousands upfront for expert witnesses, court costs, administrative fees, etc. I find it ironic that once a party is made disabled, jobless and broke at the hands of doctors he paid, the medical malpractice legal system prevents him from filing a claim. This happens all of the time so it is no wonder that so few cases are filed. To anyone with any insight into the reality of medical malpractice (which highly favors doctors and insurance companies), it’s ludicrous that anyone would be pointing to the injureds’ awards as a cause for the increased cost of “medical care.” We should be looking for ways that more injured parties could bring such cases to trial — like being able to sue the insurance companies via class action suits for not overseeing that their providers actually provided the medical care the insurance companies promised in their annual and quarterly SEC filings and patient contracts!

  2. Mark Baird says:

    This hype has really driven many things. In February of 2008 the Supreme Court rules on Reigel v. Medtronic that patients harmed by medical devices can not sue medical device manufacturers because the politically influenced FDA sets the “requirements” and that people suing is a separate requirement.I am fighting to get my sons day in court. I am trying to get the Medical Device Safety Act of 2009 passed.http://www.robertsfight.com

  3. Mark Baird says:

    This hype has really driven many things. In February of 2008 the Supreme Court rules on Reigel v. Medtronic that patients harmed by medical devices can not sue medical device manufacturers because the politically influenced FDA sets the “requirements” and that people suing is a separate requirement.I am fighting to get my sons day in court. I am trying to get the Medical Device Safety Act of 2009 passed.http://www.robertsfight.com