Articles Posted in Healthcare Reform

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“Today, this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.”                                                                          -USA Today: “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.” (July 27, 2018)

Last Friday, USA Today published a report with findings from their investigation into hospital records and personal stories and has concluded that hospitals are failing mothers by missing symptoms that indicate serious maternal complications. The report, entitled “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.,” shared the CDC’s statistic that 50,000 women a year in this country suffer a serious complication during delivery. Around 700 mothers die a year.

These statistics alone might not sound significant given that there are nearly 4 million births a year in the U.S., but the frightening part is that despite being a wealthy, industrialized country, our maternal death rate is getting worse and is the WORST of any developed country. We are the only country besides Sudan and Afghanistan whose maternal death rate is on the rise, despite the belief by many that we have the best care in the world.

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It sometimes feels like no amount of facts and figures will ever be able to bust the myth that medical malpractice lawsuits, greedy lawyers, and Americans looking for a payday are responsible for the majority of lawsuits and for driving up the costs of healthcare and medical insurance. We’ve frequently discussed the actual drivers behind high medical malpractice premiums for doctors, as well as the reasons behind climbing health insurance premiums and the costs of medical care and tests (please see the related posts linked below for more information).

Today, we’d like to address the latest figures released regarding lawsuits filed in this country and again attempt to set the record straight on these so-called ambulance chasing lawsuits.

According to data compiled by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) for the year 2016, the latest data available, contract disputes are responsible for the majority of civil cases in state courts, representing 47% of civil cases filed. Other NCSC data revealed:

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This week, the Trump administration released their budget, estimating a savings of $31.8 billion over 10 years by capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. This practice, known as tort reform, has been a highly argued issue for decades. With over 30 states having already enacted some type of tort reform, the facts show that the number of medical malpractice lawsuits have declined, but that the average payout has actually increased. What could explain this?

Tort Reform Will Further Harm Economically Disadvantaged

While tort reformers would like to argue that fewer malpractice lawsuits are due to legislation restricting damages, the truth is that the system is set up in these states to discourage attorneys from taking lawsuits and to discourage those with claims from coming forward. The result is attorneys who have become extremely selective of the cases they will take on, choosing to only take those that seem to be a ‘sure thing.’ Before assuming the worst, consider the financial nature of the profession. Most medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys are only paid by the client if they recover money. All of the hours of research, being available to consult with the victim and/or their loved ones, finding, hiring, and interviewing expert witnesses, conducting depositions and court appearances are not covered by the client. Law firms are fronting the capital to carry these cases and with non-economic damages limited in many states, they’ve had to turn down cases that while legitimate, might not fare so well in court. Setting up the system so that money is only exchanged if the attorney successfully handles a case is done to serve families of all economic means, particularly those that have been weighed down by astronomical medical bills, loss of income, and other factors that have affected their ability to seek justice through an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

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‘Republicans should drop malpractice reform from their health care reform checklist. It’s a distraction from the main goal of health care freedom and it is probably unconstitutional. It’s also overrated.’

                                                                                                    -Jeffrey A. Singer, M.D.

In an April 4th online article posted on Reason.com, a bi-partisan online news site that focuses on current events and issues, surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Singer discussed his views on medical malpractice reform. Citing his personal feelings along with multiple published studies, Singer concludes that tort reform, the practice viewed by Republicans as the answer to high medical insurance and medical procedure costs, is a blow to the founding principles of federalism. Singer also views the practice as a faulty diagnosis of our country’s health care care crisis. While Singer says that after 30 years in private practice, tort reform is something he hopes to see happen, he wants to see it at the state level and is not so sure that it’s the answer to any of the issues plaguing our health care system today.

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Much has been said about the impact of medical malpractice lawsuits on the increasing costs of healthcare. Although it has been disproven that medical lawsuit payouts are increasing (payouts for physician error have fallen every year since 2001) and that malpractice premiums are rising for physicians (they’re lower than they have been in years), many politicians and citizens are still pointing fingers at the legal system and calling for change. ProPublica, a public interest advocacy group, has begun to examine the true reasons why healthcare costs and insurance premiums for Americans are higher than ever. Among their findings: unjustifiably high administrative costs, high prices for treatment, over treatment, and medical supply waste, all said to be found at the hospital-level. Medical waste seems to be hardly discussed, but with constant talk of changing the Affordable Care Act and the need for controlling surging medical costs, medical experts have begun to speak up about the excessive amount of unused, perfectly good materials discarded from hospitals, physician offices, clinics, and medical centers in this country.

Medical Supply Waste: A Blessing and a Curse

In 2012, the National Academy of Medicine conducted a study that found that an estimated $765 billion a year was wasted on unused, unnecessary medical supplies and equipment. For a point of reference, the study authors noted that the amount of waste was more than the annual budget for the Department of Defense. It’s a jaw dropping fact to face and one that any hospital, nursing home, or clinic employee can attest to. Ultrasound machines, beds, walkers, and other equipment is discarded when newer models come out, or when something is considered a risk to patient safety or infection control. While the primary focus should always be the safety and health of patients, steps should be taken to address how hospitals can better manage their ordering and inventory in order to avoid waste at such an excessive level.

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“Kickstarter” is the popular crowdfunding site where individuals and organizations make calls for donations and support for various endeavors. The projects are widespread, often related to art, history, humanitarian issues, political proposals and more. For example, one Kickstarter project that recently made a call for support is that of a documentary focusing on the prevalence of medical errors and the need to act to tackle the problem. The Kickstarter funding page can be viewed here. On the page you can view a trailer for the project. The organizers have a goal of raising $25,000 for the endeavor. Right now a total of seventy seven backers have provided well over $8,000 toward that ultimate total.

The Wall of Silence

The project is referred to as “Breaking the Wall of Silence,” with a one sentence summary that states: “A film about the quest to break through healthcare’s wall of silence surrounding medical errors in order to improve patient safety.”

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A recent report published in the Journal of HealthCare Finance touched on a subject of obvious importance to our legal team: the intersection of economics and medical errors. In particular, the comprehensive research sought to examine the actual financial toll that healthcare quality problems take on national budgets. The full report can be found here.

Our med mal attorneys frequently push back against all of the false claims made about the connection between the civil justice system and healthcare costs. The obvious reality is that a focus on the healthcare system itself is required to truly tackle the rising healthcare financial burden. In particular, the wasted funds required as a result of medical errors is a good starting point to understand the changing priorities that are needed to truly address the human and monetary losses accrued as a result of inadequate medical quality.

The Economics of Medical Errors Study

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As outlined yesterday, medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors are not affected by tort reform laws. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is nothing to be done to lower them. In fact, many argue that insurance companies need to be reigned in with stricter rules to ensure that they are not bilking those who need their services. In fact, Illinois is often used as an example of the effects of insurance reform.

Illinois, Medical Malpractice, & Insurance Reform

The Center for Justice & Democracy discussed in its med mal briefing book how the Illinois case informs the reality of insurance reform.

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Money and medical care–a pairing that at once seems dangerous and unnecessary. But of course finances are intimately entwined with the health care that all of us receive when we need it. As the recent debates over national health care policy makes plain, community members are still deeply divided over the best course to take to ensure that all of the wheels in the operation–from doctors and drug manufacturers to insurance consumers and patients–are balanced to provide the best care to the most people at the lowest cost.

Unfortunately, the civil justice system is often unfairly added to the mix. That’s because there remains a mistaken notion (advanced by unsavory politics) that allowing fair access to the civil justice system following medical malpractice somehow greatly increases the cost of care. Time and again this has been proven obviously untrue. There very well are issues about paying for the care that we all need–but an actual solution is not found in curtailing the legal rights of former patients.

Medicaid & Money

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American Medical News is reporting on encouraging new developments in the battle to reduce medical errors by doctors and hospitals. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers have worked for decades to raise awareness of medical mistakes that should have been prevented. By assisting the patient victims and their families, we strive to ensure that the problems receive redress and medical professionals are encouraged to improve the quality of their care by ensuring that their errors are recognized.

Local Illinois doctors are now taking another step which may help to raise awareness of patient safety in another way. The University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago is planning to work on a three-year project to help evaluate whether the center’s medical error model (known as the “seven pillars” approach) is appropriate for other hospitals. Advocates for this type of approach explained that the model has allowed the identification of 56 cases of medical harm with 55 of them settled out of court.

Involved doctors hope that the effort will ultimately improve patient safety in more area locations, sharing, “We want to take what we’ve been doing for the last few years and try to roll it out to nine other hospitals in the Chicago area.”