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As we wait for tomorrow’s vote on the confirmation of Tom Price for Secretary of Health & Human Services, one cannot help but notice many erroneous ‘facts’ and figures being touted in the media by medical malpractice naysayers. One such untruth is that healthcare costs have significantly increased in recent years due to an influx in medical malpractice lawsuits. Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth persists and there seems to be no end in sight.

You Can’t Argue the Facts

Nationwide, state-filed medical malpractice lawsuits fell 23% between 2001 and 2010. In Illinois alone, medical malpractice suits have fallen 39% since 2003. Across the United States, civil lawsuits, under which medical malpractice is classified, are mostly comprised of contract disputes. In fact, 64% of all civil lawsuits are related to contracts, while malpractice cases account for only .2% of all civil lawsuits. This information was obtained through the Illinois Courts’ own website.

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Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Republican senator who is best known for his unsuccessful 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, is guilty of saying one thing and doing another.  In 1999, Santorum’s wife, Karen, sued her chiropractor for $500,000 after his treatment of her sore back caused further injury that required surgery. Former Senator Santorum testified in the case that his wife’s quality of life had been diminished, with the injury having harmed her active lifestyle and her ability to keep up with household tasks. Mrs. Santorum was awarded $350,000 (she ultimately received $175,000).

Hypocrisy

Just 5 years prior to his wife’s lawsuit, Santorum fought to implement legislation that would place a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering, the very injustices that he testified his wife had to face after receiving poor care. Not surprisingly, when pushed by the media on the issue during his 2012 presidential bid, Santorum said that his wife did not sue for pain and suffering.  Instead, he argued that his wife fought to be compensated for lost income and costs stemming from the injury (medical costs associated with her injury and surgery were shown to total less than $20,000). The judge who initially presided over the trial later reduced her award to $175,000, citing Mrs. Santorum’s own words that the operation gave her “immediate relief” and that she required no further treatment after the surgery.

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A study has been making headlines this week with results showing that the number of black women dying from cervical cancer is higher than white women and even greater than was reported in recent years. The study evaluated previously calculated numbers, but changed a key study parameter to come up with more accurate statistics on the cervical cancer death rate.  The study authors eliminated those who had received hysterectomies from the population tally of women, as they have no chance of developing cervical cancer and therefore should not be a consideration. The new data reveals that 10.1 out of 100,000 black women will die from cervical cancer, while 4.7 out of 100,000 white women will succumb to the disease. The difference before data was reexamined showed a slightly smaller disparity of 2.5% between black women and white women.

Cutting Affordable Care Act May Further Widen the Gap
Sadly, despite the Affordable Care Act covering cervical cancer screenings (through annual pap smears) and the fact that if caught early, cervical cancer is curable and even preventable, the rate of cervical cancer deaths among women of all races is still increasing. While the causes of higher cervical cancer death rates among black women were not examined, many medical experts have concluded that less access to quality healthcare is to blame. If the Affordable Care Act were to eliminate insurance coverage of annual pap smears, the predicted outcome by health experts would be more cases of cervical cancer being missed and ultimately more deaths from the disease.

 

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This morning at 10 am ET, Republican Congressman and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS), Tom Price, M.D., began his second confirmation hearing, this time with the Senate Finance Committee. Last Tuesday, Price was grilled by the Senate Health Committee. Today’s panel is the only one of the two committees with the power to vote on his nomination. Once today’s committee has wrapped up their questioning, they will vote on his nomination. If affirmed, the Senate Finance Committee moves the vote to the full Senate who will then affirm or deny Tom Price as Secretary of HHS.

Price Aims to Limit Medical Malpractice Payouts 
To recap, Tom Price is a staunch advocate of legal reform as it pertains to healthcare. Price is a proponent of caps on damages, revamping Medicare/Medicaid and has also said he will push for national health guidelines that physicians must follow when diagnosing a patient and recommending treatment. We encourage you to read Levin and Perconti’s recent review of Tom Price’s proposed changes to the U.S. healthcare system.

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Earlier this month, United States Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Tom Donahue gave the 2017 State of American Business Address in which he discussed the Chamber’s belief that the economy would grow in the coming year, while also targeting current laws and practices that they believe to be in need of reform in order to reach our growth potential.

Chamber Recommends Legal Reform to Grow Our Economy

One of the keystones of the conservative argument for limiting legal expenses is to keep arbitration as part of contracts, liability waivers and agreements. Donohue says that as part of the upcoming healthcare conversations to repeal and replace Obamacare, his team plans to include medical liability reform.

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National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), an entity created by Congress and run by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, has compiled a list of state rankings comparing the number of payouts for physician errors based on the state population. At number 20, Illinois falls right in the middle with 294 payouts, or 1 payment for every 43,741 people residing in our state.  At the top of the list is New York, with 8,875 payments for physician errors, or 1 for every 37,466 residents. The state with the fewest payments for physician error based on the number of residents was Wisconsin, with 1 payment for every 199,012 people.

Data Shows Others Relying on Faulty Evidence
The most striking fact to come from the data collected by NPDB is that the number of payments for physician errors has decreased as a whole every single year from 2001 to 2015 (2016 data is not yet available). This evidence stands in stark contrast to the claim made by top Republican lawmakers that tort reform (putting caps on damages awarded to those injured by physician error and other acts of negligence) is necessary to reducing healthcare costs for Americans. Tort reform advocates frequently argue that the number and dollar amount of medical malpractice payouts are increasing, forcing insurers to charge physicians and healthcare organizations more for their malpractice premiums. Tort reformers conclude that to cover these larger premiums, healthcare organizations must pass the cost onto the patient through higher costs for treatment. Thankfully, we now have even more hard evidence to support the belief that limiting the right to compensation by injured persons should not be based on the false idea that it will create rising healthcare costs.

 

 

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An article posted yesterday on Huffington Post examines how Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will force Americans to be treated as a diagnosis and not an individual with personal or legal rights. This past May, Tom Price, now Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, released the ‘Empowering Patients First Act,’ his alternative to healthcare reform known as the Affordable Care Act.

Price’s plan, known as the Empowering Patients First Act, would require doctors to administer medical treatment for symptoms based on a set of guidelines established by the Secretary of Health & Human Services in conjunction with a currently unidentified  ‘qualified physician census organization.’ According to Price, these clinical guidelines would be updated every two years and would be made available to the public. Should the Empowering Patients First Act pass, Americans would no longer be treated as an individual, but rather as a set of symptoms resulting in a one size fits all diagnosis.

Why Americans Should Worry

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A recent study conducted by Harvard University found that female doctors provide better quality care to elderly nursing home residents than their male counterparts. Specifically, those patients who were hospitalized and later discharged were less likely to die or have a repeat hospital visit.  The study estimates that there would be 32,000 fewer deaths annually if male doctors could ‘achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.’

Although women make up one half the patient population, only 1/3 of practicing physicians are women.

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In November, Americans for Insurance Reform (AIR), a coalition of nearly 100 consumer interest groups, released the results of two studies they conducted based on new insurance data. The studies reveal that contrary to Speaker Paul Ryan’s claims, states that allow caps on damages and other tort reform measures actually have higher doctor’s rates. These same studies also show that premiums and claims for doctors are at their lowest levels in 40 years.

Tort reform supporters frequently claim that medical malpractice insurance rate hikes are directly linked to increases in malpractice payouts. AIR found that rising rates were tied to the economy and the financial losses of the insurance industry, relating to their investments in the stock and bond markets. In years where the stock market was strong, insurance companies lowered premiums in an effort to attract customers and quickly invest the profit made from their premiums.

Based on these findings, AIR concludes that insurance companies are allowing tort reform supporters to believe that taking away the right to fair compensation for those injured by negligence will reduce insurance rates. According to AIR, ‘Lawmakers should focus instead on controlling the power and the abuses of the insurance industry.’

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Two of the major public health systems in Chicago have been identified as paying out over $80 million each in a 3 year time period for medical negligence claims. Between 2012 and September 2015, there were 41 cases settled by Cook County Health & Hospitals System (who operates John H. Stroger Hospital), adding up to more than $80.5 million.  During that same period, there were 33 cases settled by University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences Systems totaling $83.7 million.

Since 2012, medical negligence settlement totals have varied, without pointing to specific factors for an increase or decrease. The amount of multimillion dollar payouts has grown, in spite of a greater focus on reducing medical errors.

Lawmakers are putting increasing pressure on hospitals to cut down on the number of deaths caused by medical mistakes by cutting funding to facilities with avoidable infections, injuries and deaths.  U.S. officials believe these measures are making an impact and are hopeful that the number of errors will start showing a downward trend.