On this blog our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers frequently discuss the topic of rising healthcare costs. It is obviously relevant to all community members who are forced to spend increasing sums to get the same care. However, it is also relevant to our attorneys in another context, because medical malpractice lawyers are often blamed for playing a role in increasing medical costs. One need only listen to the current crop of Republican candidates talk about these issues for a short time before they will inevitably bring up the need for “tort reform” or in other ways suggest that all medical costs problems can be placed at the feet of those who use the civil justice system to seek redress after they have been harmed by a medical error.
These claims are incredibly misguided, and it is important to continually fight back against them. Medical costs are indeed rising, but virtually all credible evidence has shown time and again that taking away rights of medical malpractice victims has no bearing on the debate. Not only is it wrong, but tying the legal system to the cost debate is distracting. Instead we need to focus attention on the real issues related to the rising costs and the way that they can and should be curbed.
This week the outgoing head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, offered very candid comments about medical waste and its contribution to overall healthcare spending. The New York Times reported on his comments and implications. Dr. Berwick explained that anywhere from 20% to 30% of health care spending is essentially “waste” that yields no patient benefit. If his estimates are correct that suggests that $150 billion to $250 billion might be saved in federal spending every year by eliminating that waste. He listed several factors for the waste including failure to coordinate care, complexity within health care administrations, fraud, and burdensome Medicare and Medicaid rules.
He retorted that “Much is done that does not help patients at all, and many physicians know it.”
The comments were made on his last day on the job that he had served for nearly two years. Commenting on the new healthcare law with which he was involved, Dr. Berwick explained that the deep divisions over the bill are in large part based on misunderstandings about what it does. He noted that it is complex and most community members simply don’t have the time to understand it fully. Yet, he analogized that Americans supported manned missions to the moon even without knowing rocket science, and so they could support this bill as well. He continued to praise it explaining that “we are headed for much more healing and much safer care.”
Dr. Berwick has long been an advocate for patient safety. During his tenure he worked to ensure that electronic records were implemented across the board and the operations of different medical providers were merged to coordinate better care. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that both efforts were spurred in large part by Dr. Berwick’s desire to eliminate medical errors that continue to take the lives of thousands of patients each year.
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