Calls for capping medical malpractice awards have grown louder and more frequent as the debate over how to reform the nation’s health care system have raged over the past year. Ignored or drowned out in the debate has been solid evidence that malpractice insurance and suits account for a minimal percentage of the annual tab Americans pay for the services of doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, nurses and even insurers.
Speaking at Georgetown University this week, medical malpractice expert doctor and lawyer Gregg Bloche cited data that show malpractice cost health care providers and insurers $55 billion in 2007. The total spending for health care in that year topped $2.2 trillion. This means that eliminating every single cent spent on malpractice two years ago would have reduced health spending by just 2.5 percent.
Stating the obvious, University of Illinois law professor David Hyman told the same audience, “Tort reform is not a magical solution to the problems with our health care system.” Virginia and West Virginia are among the 32 states that cap malpractice awards, making them among the 32 states that have not reduced health care costs over the past several years.
Far beyond the economic issues of medical malpractice, however, are considerations of how limiting patients’ ability to receive compensation for injuries they have suffered as a result of medical errors, surgical errors and medication dispensing or administration errors further hurts those patients. I have written about this before, but I can’t stress enough that patients harmed by medical malpractice cannot be denied the right to receive justice for the harm they have suffered.
The current federal administration under President Barack Obama is showing some signs of agreement with me and other on this, offering grants to states to explore ways other than damage award caps to lower the direct costs of malpractice. While I hope such projects succeed and take discussion of so-called “tort reform” out of the health care debate, I would also like to see states with existing caps do away with them.
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