Federal and state lawmakers continue to call for “tort reform” as a way to reduce overall health care costs. The politicians argue that making it harder for patients to sue health care providers who commit errors and capping awards to successful plaintiffs would save money. They are doing this despite growing evidence that malpractice verdict and settlement payments, and even the costs practitioners’ bear for malpractice insurance, represent a very small fraction of the more than $2 trillion spent on medical treatments, surgeries and medications each year in the United States.
The latest data showing that efforts to cap malpractice awards and limit the numbers of reasons patients and their families can sue doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists for injuries or wrongful deaths are both unnecessary and unfair come directly from the largest pool of data regarding U.S. malpractice costs, the federally maintained National Practitioner Data Bank. The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen crunched the numbers on total health spending and malpractice costs from 2000 through 2009 and found the following:
Health care spending rose 83 percent while medical malpractice payments fell 8 percent. (Both figures are in unadjusted dollars.)
A total of 10,772 payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2009, totaling $3.49 billion. That figure equals 0.14 of one percent of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ estimated $2.5 trillion in overall U.S. health care spending for 2009.
Virginia is one of several states that cap monetary damage awards for victims of medical malpractice. While some states are reconsidering the fairness of such caps, and Illinois recently had its medical malpractice cap law declared unconstitutional, federal restrictions on victims rights may come under the guise of health care reform.
My colleagues and I have spent decades representing people harmed by medical mistakes, surgical errors, neglect by health care providers and incorrectly dispensed and administered medications. We have seen firsthand the pain, suffering and financial losses victims of medical malpractice incur. patients hurt by the mistakes or inattention of health care providers need to have the right to seek fair compensation for their injuries.