Each Chicago medical malpractice attorney at our firm knows that those pushing tort reform laws do two things to try to “sell” the proposal to the public: minimize the downsides and exaggerate the benefits. For example, it is often argued that there is little harm to the consumer from these laws, because they only target “frivolous” lawsuits and not those involving actually negligence. Obviously this is not true as most proposals create blanket limits on all cases–no matter what the details. In fact, the very broad brush used in the statutes is one of the key problems with these proposals.
On top of that, many claim that these minimal downsides are needed in order to enact broader goals for the public. What are those goals? There is usually a claim that tort reform laws will translate into lower healthcare costs for consumers. Get rid of the abundance of medical malpractice lawsuits, the argument goes, and the cost of medicine will decrease. Insurance premiums will drop and a plethora of benefits will be seen society-wide as a result. While this line of reasoning might make sense in political soundbytes, it is simply not true.
A recent Public Citizen report, which we discussed earlier this week, provided more information on the lack of actual benefit to consumers following a decrease in these lawsuits. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys understand that it is crucial to get this information out to a wider audience, so that more and more legal rights are not stripped away for no reason–or only to benefit large medical and insurance interests.
The report first identifies that medical malpractice lawsuits and payouts have decreased steadily for the past eight years. This is in no doubt a product of the decimation of basic legal rights for patients in certain jurisdictions. But has this steady decrease in suits and payouts led to shrinking of medical costs? No.
Specifically, the report notes that medical malpractice payouts decrease by nearly 12% from 2000 to 2011. During that same time, consumer spending on healthcare nearly doubled. In other words, the lawsuits have nothing to do with the healthcare costs. The report summarizes the reality as seen in the actual statistics by noting that “These figures debunk claims that medical malpractice litigation is responsible for rising healthcare costs, as well as promises that patients should expect savings from litigation restrictions.”
Delving deeper, the report took a look at Texas–the state most often mentioned as an example of the effect of drastic tort reform laws. A Texas Congressman who is pushing for federal laws similar to those in existence in Texas claimed that the Texas laws led to an increase in doctors which in turn resulted in consumers paying less and having more medical options.
But the truth does not match up at all with those over-the-top claims. It is true that Texas law cut medical malpractice payouts drastically–down 65% over seven years. But that did nothing for actual patients–it only helped insurance companies and medical interests. That’s because private insurance rates and Medicare spending not only failed to drop, in the state but actually increased faster than the national average during that time.
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