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New Study Shows State Malpractice Caps Do Not Increase Access to Care

Blog readers may remember recent discussions about a medical malpractice “tort reform” debate that is brewing in California. As noted before, advocates are hoping to increase the arcane cap on certain damages for victims of medical malpractice in the state. This cap was put into place several decades ago and has never been increased. As it now stands, it significantly and arbitrarily distorts the compensation available to patients in the state.

We have previously noted how the cap on non-economic damages means that certain patients, like children, stay-at-home parents, and the elderly, receive far lower awards than others for the same injury caused by malpractice.

Right now the cap is at $250,000, but patient rights advocates are hoping to increase the cap to $1 million. To do so, the supporters are now gathering signatures in the hopes of acquiring enough to put the measure on the ballot. If they succeed all voters in the state can weigh in to change current law and increase the cap.

To put this into perspective, the $250,000 cap when translated into today’s dollars is about $65,000. The figure has never been raised for inflation.

As you might expect, the political push is garnering significant attention from all sides. Millions of dollars will likely be spent by proponents and opponents of the measure to sway public opinion.

Red Herring Argument
In the coming months we can expect the rhetoric from those against the increase to heat up. The arguments they bring out will probably be the same as those used in similar fights all over the country, including Illinois. As previously noted, there is already robust evidence that these caps do not lower medical costs, reduce so-called “defensive medicine,” or lower insurance costs. Those are some of the most common claims in support of taking away legal rights from patients.

Last week the Center for Justice & Democracy released a new study that took direct aim at yet another of the arguments often made by tort reform proponents: supposed increased access to medical care.

The argument is that doctors will choose to practice in areas with tort reform laws, increasing access to proper medical care for community members. While it may make an attractive three-second political talking point, that argument simply does not hold water.

As the CJ&D report, “Exposing Medical Myths: “Caps” And Physician Supply,” shows, virtually all the work that has been done on the topic shows that caps have no effect on physician supply. When looking at data from individual states, government studies, and various academic projects, the truth is plain. Those interested in learning more should take a look at the entire study to get a feel for the breadth of evidence supporting this reality.

All patient safety advocates are urged to share information with family and friends about these issues. From dinner tables conversations to political rallies, every time another community member learns to dispel these tort reform “myths,” we are closer to ensuring fairness for all patients.

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