Discussions about medical malpractice, tort reform, and healthcare costs are frequently framed in terms of “Doctors vs. Lawyers.” This is unfortunate, because it distracts from very real problems: the need to limit medical errors and reign in health care costs. Doctors are obviously focused on helping sick and injured patients with their medical needs. Lawyers are focused on helping sick and injured patients protect their legal rights. There is no inherent reason why those goals are at odds. A more holistic approach is needed to change focus on discuss the real underlying issues.
From that perspective, a new article written this month by a doctor Board Certified in Internal Medicine offers a helpful way forward.
The Reality of Med Mal Costs
The story makes a forceful point: medical malpractice insurance costs for doctors are not the cause of rising medical bills. As an example, the doctor confesses that his annual malpractice insurance costs are lower than many individual family health insurance policies. The connection between malpractice insurance and healthcare costs is a mirage–as is the connection to med mal lawsuits themselves.
As we have mentioned before, medical malpractice trends are in one direction: down. In the last decade the number of claims brought and payouts made has decreased anywhere from 30-40%. The number holds both for individual physician-defendants as well as hospital-defendants.
This trend of far lower payouts and lawsuits has not led to a similar decrease in the cost of healthcare (and, subsequently, health insurance). It is obvious, then, that there are other factors driving the costs. It is critical that we focus on those other factors instead of remaining mired down in debate about topics that do not address the issue.
Similarly, throughout this time of decrease medical malpractice lawsuits, the rates of medical errors have remain unchanged–some even argue they have increased. As a result, it is important to reiterate the need for improved quality of care.
In his closing argument, the doctor makes a forceful admission that one could only hope spreads far and wide. He explains:
“For a long time we’ve been in the middle of a great national debate on controlling our crippling health care costs. The next time a hospital, an insurance company or a politician says we can’t control these costs because malpractice is so expensive, why don’t you ask them if maybe they’d like to show you the real numbers and start looking at the real problem. Because now you know: it ain’t the lawyers.”
It is high time that we have more honesty and frank discussion in regards to medical costs. As attorneys who help patients harmed by medical errors, we do not automatically believe that all doctors are suspect and any adverse outcome is caused by professional negligence. On the contrary, we appreciate that medical professionals are incredibly skilled, dedicated community members who save lives day in and day out. Hopefully, those in the medical field similarly concede that pursuing redress via the civil justice system is not automatically something to shun or attack.
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