The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” has stirred the pot in both the court of public opinion as well as our judicial system. The now infamous mandate provision, which requires most individuals to have health insurance policies beginning in 2014 (with some exceptions) or otherwise pay a penalty through their taxes, made its way up the ladder to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court upheld its constitutionality, although the debate as to its wisdom rages on. One angle not so publicly explored is the mandate’s effects on medical malpractice claims.
The Insurance Mandate’s Effects
While the Affordable Care Act does not directly legislate malpractice, as such torts are governed and adjudicated at the state level, its provisions nevertheless are likely to have far ranging effects on various aspects of healthcare, including malpractice. A Senate report from the Democratic Caucus made brief mention of malpractice, stating that its “sense” was that “health reform presents an opportunity to address issues related to medical malpractice and medical liability insurance,” and furthermore suggested that states should be open to alterations to its civil litigation systems.
Insurance experts have furthermore noted, as for example in this commentary on an insurance underwriter website, the anticipated positive and negative effects of the healthcare mandate. By mandating that all individuals have insurance, it is expected that more and more people will be take greater initiative in addressing medical concerns, as well as simply attending consistent checkups now that they have insurance. This focus on preventative care will likely lead to a decline in serious health ailments. With fewer ailments to address, it is possible that the rate of serious malpractice claims may decline given that doctors will not have to handle complicated cases that open themselves to the possibilities of committing negligence or malpractice should treatment (or lack thereof) fail or result in injury to the patient. Additional provisions to improve healthcare, such as computerizing medical records to keep various patient information organized and accessible, and providing funding to research and hopefully improve treatment options, may lead to greater preventative care, healthier individuals, and fewer chances for doctor or hospital mistakes that would lead to malpractice claims.
On the other side, an increase in patients attending doctor checkups may very well lead to longer waits for appointments as well as exams and tests that are necessary to diagnose patients before potentially serious medical issues become worse. This could also overburden doctors and hospitals, inundating them with patients to the point that those individuals do not receive the focused attention they require. There is a risk of overlooking certain symptoms and ailments, as well as misreading charts and test results in the hurry to see every patient on the list. Broadly speaking, this could lead to improper care and treatment, and thus an increase in malpractice claims.
The mandate, which begins in 2014 (with the exception of the employer mandate, which the Obama Administration has delayed implementation of but will nevertheless be implemented by 2015), has the potential to greatly affect healthcare in both positive and negative ways. It will be interesting to observe the effects on medical malpractice claims over time.
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