If you believe most members of the US Congress, medical malpractice is ripping apart our healthcare system. Frivolous lawsuits are destroying America. We need “Tort Reform” to save us. Sound familiar?
Question: Is there really a medical malpractice crisis in the United States? Or perhaps, is something else afoot? What are the real facts?
The United States does indeed have a malpractice crisis: Malpractice kills more people every year than car wrecks. And that's not according to trial lawyers, but rather, from the American Hospital Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. Our healthcare is more dangerous than our highways. That has to count as a crisis in anyone's book.
Indeed, a study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences confirms these numbers. It is estimated that as many as 98,000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors. It is further estimated that at least 1% of doctors in the US deserve some serious disciplinary action each year. This would amount to 7,703 physicians being disciplined each year, a number that, unfortunately far exceeds the actual number of physicians that are disciplined.
Presently, there is a bill in Congress that would sharply limit the amount a victim could receive for a medical malpractice mistake. The legislation would, among other things, limit damages for pain and suffering in malpractice cases to $250,000 (no matter how egregious the injury or damage), restrict fees paid to lawyers representing patients and create alternative means to lawsuits for resolving medical disputes.
Okay. Let’s think about this for a moment. We all know that Congress is completely controlled by lobby money. In this case, whose lobby money? Who could possibly be behind this? Have medical malpractice lawsuits really run amok, or, is this “big business” (the American Medical Association (i.e doctors), the insurance industry, etc…) trying to buy legislation to limit their responsibility and exposure for their own wrongdoing?
What is happening in Arizona? Our state is one of the few remaining that has no limit on the recovery one can receive when injured by another. Arizona voters have rejected “tort reform” measures on multiple occasions. In Arizona, we still believe in personal responsibility, that “if you break it, you should pay for it”. It truly is the cornerstone of the justice system.
What about medical malpractice and frivolous lawsuits? Is the medical and court system broken in Arizona, such that we need more legislation to protect doctors and their insurers? Hardly.
In 2000, Arizona’s population was a little more than 2 million people. The number of medical malpractice filings in Arizona that year were approximately 325. Over the next few years, the population exploded to more than 4 million. What would you expect happened to the number of medical malpractice cases? If you guess “it went up”, you would be wrong. In fact, med mal filings in Arizona in 2008 went down, to about 275. Millions more people, but less filings? Does that sound like a “crisis” to you? With over 4 million people in Arizona, there were only 275 medical malpractice lawsuits filed?
Further, consider what is happening with what doctors pay for their malpractice insurance. The largest malpractice insurer in Arizona is Mutual Insurance Company of Arizona (MICA). In December 2010, MICA declared a dividend of Sixty Million Dollars ($60,000,000) would be paid to it’s policyholders, classified as “returned premiums”. That means, MICA decided that it did not need this money anymore, because the threat and amount of lawsuits is so drastically down. For physicians insured with MICA, this dividend amounted to approximately 42% of their annual 2010 premium. It brings the total dividends (returned premiums) paid to participating MICA members in the past five (5) years to One Hundred Eighty Million Dollars ($180,000,000).
An insurance company lowering rates and refunding $180 Million Dollars to policyholders?? Does this sound like there is a crisis in Arizona? Does this sound like a situation where “medical malpractice lawsuits” are ruining us? When is the last time your insurance company reduced your rates, or refunded ½ your costs of insurance?
In truth, medical malpractice lawsuits are way down. So why all the hype? Why is there a cry for “tort reform” for medical malpractice cases? Remember, “tort reform” is really just a fancy phrase for “taking away YOUR legal rights”. Why does Congress want to take away your rights to sue for medical mistakes? Answer: Because medical lobbyists and insurance lobbyists want more. How do they get more? Two ways: Blame “lawsuits” for a non-existent problem (i.e. create a crisis and scare people), and pay Congress-people lots of “campaign” money to agree.
Question: I thought this was only about “frivolous lawsuits”? What about them?
First, the proposed legislation makes no distinction between the most egregious medical errors and “frivolous” lawsuits. The worst medical mistakes imaginable will also be included. Is that really what we want? Do we really want to give health care providers and insurers a “pass”, a way to escape responsibility for their errors?
I promise you, there are systems in place in the courts that are well-equipped to deal with “frivolous” cases. Unless you meet certain conditions, you will never even see the inside of a courtroom. The Judge will dismiss the case before it gets that far.
How we begin to destroy our justice system? Limit the amount of money that can be awarded for damages, no matter how severe. Make it “not worth it” to anyone. This is what doctors and their insurers really want, and, if up to our Congress, they might just get it. Who loses? You. Your family. Your neighbor. Your co-workers. Your friends.
The United States does not need this legislation, and we certainly don’t need it in Arizona. “Tort Reform” is bad, no matter what lies they tell you or labels they put it.