Articles Posted in Health Care Reform

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With policymakers and tort reform advocates recently making a big push for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), patient and elder rights advocates have come out in full force to discredit many of the non-truths being touted as facts to promote tort reform. Last month, Sabrina Safrin, an attorney and Professor of Law at Rutgers University, published an enlightening article entitled ‘The C-Section Epidemic: What’s Tort Reform Got to Do with It?‘ Ms. Safrin’s report investigated the exceedingly high rate of C-Sections in this country and compared the rate in states with medical malpractice caps vs. those without. Her research led her to conclude that there is no reduction in C-Sections in states that have imposed a cap. Based of the most recently available CDC data on births, Ms. Safrin and her team concluded that there is actually a 1% higher rate of C-Sections in states with a malpractice cap.  The author also suggested several strategies that could assist in bringing down the number of C-Sections, something the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has theorized will be directly reduced by enacting tort reform.

Caesarean Section: Facts & Figures

A C-Section is currently the most common procedure in hospital operating rooms across the country. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 babies is delivered by C-Section, a more than 50% increase from just 20 years ago. Such a large jump would lead one to assume that it has been discovered that C-Sections lead to better outcomes for neonatal health. Not so. In fact, data shows that hospitals with higher C-Section rates show no decrease in neonatal death rates, higher APGAR scores (a measure of baby’s health at birth), or reduction in time spent in a NICU. In fact, babies delivered via elective C-Section spend more time in the NICU, typically for respiratory issues due to early delivery. A C-Section also mandates a longer hospital stay for both the mother and baby, as well as a longer recovery, which all lead to higher hospital bills. Ms. Safrin notes that a C-Section costs 33-50% more than a vaginal delivery and that privately insured women are 33% more likely than an uninsured woman to deliver via C-Section, while those on Medicaid are 17% more likely to have one. Also worth noting is that half of all deliveries in this country are paid for by Medicaid.

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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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Our team of attorneys working on nursing home neglect matters frequently point to staffing levels as a key factor in the prevalence of widespread mistreatment at long-term care facilities. The logic is pretty straightforward. Nurses and aides perform the bulk of basic caregiving and routine medical functions at these facilities. Each individual worker can only do so much each day in the work time they are allotted. Therefore, there must be a sufficient number of employees to ensure that each individual resident or patient receives the care they need.

Unfortunately, this runs counter to the goal of many owners and operators who have to pay those employees. They seek to lower costs in order to increase profits to owners and shareholders. By cutting back staffing levels to the bone, their payroll significantly decreases and they make more money. But facility residents suffer as a result.

This dynamic is often discussed in the nursing home context. It is important to note that the same issues apply in other medical facilities–like hospitals. When a hospital does not have sufficient nursing levels, patients may unsuspectingly placed in danger.

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Consumer Health Day wrote last month about the unreliable use of patient death rates as a measure of the quality of a hospital.

The story explained how a new study from researchers a the Harvard Medical School examined varying measurement forms of patient death rates; researchers determined that they presented scattered scores for each individual hospital. Specifically, it was noted that mortality rates are examined in different ways by different hospitals, meaning that their comparison is often unhelpful.

As it now stands different “vendors” crease various measurement tools for hospital-wide death rates. The study used the same hospital and measured its score using different calculations made by each vendor. Over 2.5 million patients were analyzed in the study.

The study’s lead doctor explained, “It’s troubling that four different methods for calculating mortality rates as a measure of quality should yield such different results…common sense suggests that there is a problem.”

Thus, as is now stands there is no “gold standard” measurement upon which all others can be compared. Mortality rates remain a murky, subjective measure that is of little use to the average consumer looking to compare the quality of care provided at different facilities.
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One health authority is proactively taking steps to understand its mistakes of the past to ensure that future patient care is improved. The Winnipeg Free Press reported on the mortality review conducted by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority which examined the recurring themes found in an analysis of deaths in the area. The years-long study ultimately concluded that medical care could have been better in virtually half of the deaths.

Specifically, 44% of deaths resulted from one of 17 identified themes, including severe blood poisoning and procedural complications. The review of nearly 2,900 patient deaths found that nearly 300 resulted from hospital acquired infections (like pneumonia), nearly 200 from failure to promptly identify a patient problem, 188 from complications during patient transfer, and another 126 involving problems like falls and bedsores.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers have personally worked with many families who have lost loved ones to problematic medical care leading to just these sorts of issues. It is commendable for a health regulatory body to conduct a systematic analysis of past mistakes in an effort to understand the best ways to improve the quality of care at their facilities. It is the first step in making changes that will save countless lives.

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House Democrats achieved a great feat last night by reshaping the American health care system to extend insurance coverage to almost 32 million people. The 219-212 vote secures a historic win for President Obama. The president stated that this isn’t radical reform but major reform. The president is likely going to sign the bill Tuesday and will try to sell the idea to a skeptical public.

The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Levin & Perconti are greatly pleased to report that the bill is free of any provision that would limit a patient’s rights. Many republicans were looking to limit the rights of those who had become victims of medical malpractice. The alternatives to litigation program contained in the current health care bill will provide an absolute opt-out for plaintiffs. President Obama should sign the bill on Tuesday. After he signs it the Senate will begin to debate passing a “reconciliation patch” designed by the House as a condition of passing the health care legislation. During the House debate, there may be amendments introduced demanding tort reform. The GOP once again may attempt to limit the rights of patients. Hopefully, the message of the American Association of Justice is getting through to the members of Congress. The important message they are expressing is that limiting the rights of patients will do little to reduce healthcare costs. More importantly, the government must focus on the 98,000 deaths per year is due to medical errors. The Senate needs to remember this number when they vote on the “reconciliation patch.” To read more about this historic legislation, please click the link.

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Many of those opposing President Obama’s health care plan are maintaining that the solution to the health care lies in the inaction of tort reform. Recently, at a health care summit, Representative John Boehner, proclaimed that the costs of malpractice insurance have become the country’s biggest cost driver. Presidents of the American Medical Association have written into newspapers claiming that medical malpractice reform was the “surest and quickest way to slow down the rising cost of health care.”

Yet all of these accusations are false. According to StatesmanJournal.com, the Congressional Budge Office has estimated that malpractice costs account for less than 2 percent of health care spending. They have determined that tort reform would only lower health care costs by 0.5 percent. The Republican leadership is exaggerating the significance that medical malpractice costs have on health care. Also, the frequency of medical malpractice lawsuits has diminished recently. In the mid-1990s there were 15 medical malpractice lawsuits filed to every 100 physicians. In 2008 that number dropped to 8 percent. In the 30 states that have capped medical malpractice damages, there is no empirical evidence that health care costs have decreased. It is obvious that Republicans are overstating their facts.

Most importantly, Republicans are ignoring the many victims of medical negligence who will be unable to be justly compromised if tort reform is imposed. Since tort reform does not equal health care reform, it would be wrong to limit the rights of patients for very little reward. To read more statistics about tort reform, please click the link.

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The National Practitioner Data Bank has determined that fewer medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2009 than any year on record. This statistic contradicts the GOP claims that medical malpractice litigation is to blame for rising healthcare costs that the elimination would help save health care. This level of malpractice payments was the lowest since 1999 and the payments were at their lowest since 1992. While healthcare spending rose 83 percent, medical malpractice payments have fallen 8 percent. The figures of medical malpractice payments only equals .14 of 1 percent of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ in the overall of U.S. healthcare spending.

Healthcare Finance News claims that this is the fifth consecutive year that the number of medical malpractice payments has fallen and the sixth straight year in which the value of payments have fallen. This contrasts with healthcare costs that have increased every year since 1965. However, an even more alarming comparison comes when you measure the amount of medical malpractice payments to that of deaths from medical err. The Institute of Medicine found that 44,000 to 98,000 die every year due to avoidable errors. The director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, David Arkush, calls the recent attacks on medical malpractice ridiculous. He stated that some members of Congress are continuing to obsess and exaggerate one problem. He hopes that they focus on fixing the real problem of diminishing the large numbers of medical errs. To read more about the medical malpractice report, please click the link.

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Last month this blog discussed the large number of people that have become victims to medical negligence at long-term health care facilities. This issue had gained national attention due to the increased presence of long-term care facilities nation-wide. The New York Times has reported that the Senate Finance Committee has opened an investigation into the wrongful deaths and allegations of abuse at long-term care hospitals. The Senate investigation will focus on the Select Medical Corporation. This is a for-profit corporation that runs a total of 89-long-term care hospitals throughout the states.

The Senate committee has the power to launch an investigation because it oversees Medicare funds. They decided to investigate the many stories of poor treatment and patient deaths at the long-term care hospitals. These facilities will treat approximately 200,000 seriously ill patients a year nationwide, yet they rarely have full-time physicians on staff. The facility in question allowed a dying patient’s heart alarm to sound for 77 minutes before any nurses responded. While Select stated that they terminated a clinical involved in the incident, others have subsequently ensued.

Long-term hospitals are unique because they do not treat specific types of patients or offer services unavailable in regular medical centers. They have to transfer a patient back to a hospital if they suffer any medical emergencies. One large long-term care conglomerate is Kindred Healthcare. Kindred operates three long-term hospitals in Illinois, including one in Chicago. If you believe that a loved one has fallen victim to poor patient care at a long-term hospital, please consult a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer. To read more about the Senate investigation, please check out the link.

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While we all watch the U.S. Congress debate whether or not medical malpractice law needs to be reformed it is important to know the facts when it comes to the insurance industry. For example, do you know that Illinois’ largest malpractice insurer’s payouts have remained flat for over a decade? This has occurred despite the fact that premiums and profits have skyrocketed. Additionally, medical malpractice insurance rate increases between 2000 and 2005 has resulted in insurance company profits that have broken records and left executives with large compensation packages. This all leads to the ultimate fact that medical malpractice claims are not to blame for the increase in insurance rates. Instead we should all be looking to the business conditions and diminished returns on the insurance companies’ financial investments.

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association’s White Paper has highlighted all of the myths and facts associated with medical malpractice in Illinois. In reality, court records have shown that medical malpractice lawsuits in Illinois were actually decreasing before the enactment of the damages caps in 2005. Claims, lawsuits and payouts all have been stable or declining. They are not to blame for the increases in doctors’ malpractice insurance rates. Also, claims and lawsuits have not caused an increase in the costs of health care. We need to start focusing on the facts rather than the propaganda. There needs to be true insurance reform that will focus on patient safety. This will be the best and most practical way to decrease insurance costs by reducing medical error.