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Obamacare and Medical Patient Safety

Most are aware that starting last month, a large component of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was rolled out. For the first time consumers were able to search for insurance via health care “exchanges.” The general idea is that prices will be lower when companies compete for enrollees. In addition, more and more community members discovered while enrolling in the program that they qualified for Medicaid. An expansion of Medicaid was made part of the law, with more families qualifying for support via the government program.

Unfortunately, headlines regarding the roll-out were dominated by technical glitches. The federal website created to manage the enrollment experienced a range of glitches, preventing many from completing the process and acquiring new insurance via the exchanges. Those working on the project explain that fixes are being made and everything should be running smoothly in a pair of weeks. Predictably, those opposed to the law have jumped on the problems as a sign of inherent problems with everything related to the law.

It is important, however, to step back and take a holistic approach to the law. Obamacare is a complex new law which overhauls many different aspects of the health care world in the United States. Most focus is on new requirements placed upon employers and individuals to purchase health insurance. But that is by no means the only component of the law.

In fact, the law also addresses quality of care concerns with an eye toward improving patient safety.

Preventing Medical Malpractice
This week a Forbes story was published that took a look at just that issue: how Obamacare may help minimize medical errors and prevent malpractice. The interesting point was made that one of the only policy changes that have been brought forward in recent years on the subject essentially has the exact opposite effect of improving patient safety: tort reform. Other than trying to take away legal rights of injured patients, lawmakers have done little to get the problem of medical errors under control, despite the fact that new research continues to show hundreds of thousands of preventable death from preventable errors every year.

The author notes that “large medical malpractice verdicts may be the strongest drivers in making healthcare safer.” After all, profit influences actions at these facilities. By making it abundantly clear that inadequate care will have financial consequences, civil lawsuits are a huge spur pushing policy changes that keep all patients safe.

In fact, an insurer and executive at a risk management firm explained that the main argument against expanded use of the civil justice system–so-called “frivolous lawsuits”–are exaggerated. He noted, “Plaintiffs whose claims lack the fundamental legal components are challenged to find an attorney willing to devote time and out-of-pocket resources, unlikely to find a tolerant court, and even less likely to receive compensation.”

The bottom line: when discussing the “overhaul” of the medical system post-Obamacare, it is important to keep a close eye on quality considerations. Beyond political squabbling and rants about technical glitches, we must not forget the main issue: are we ensuring all medical patients receive adequate care 100% of the time?

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