If you’re getting mad about the mainstream media’s perpetual refusal to fact-check, telling you that So-and-So says X while another So-and-So says Y but refusing to tell you whether X or Y is in fact true, you will appreciate the recent Salon.com article by Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.—“I’m a doctor. So sue me. No, really.”
In this article, Dr. Parikh thoughtfully and rigorously examines the evidence that tort reformers have been touting for years as reasons why states should limit patient compensation for medical injuries. He finds that:
· We do not have an epidemic of malpractice suits in this country, and the numbers are not growing. Studies show that between 1996 and 2006, the number of suits has actually declined eight percent.
· Capping medical malpractice claims would not translate to significantly lower health care costs. Currently, malpractice costs amount to two percent of our $2 trillion total.
· Contrary to tort reformers’ claims, the cost to the system of “defensive medicine” is marginal at best.
· Although tort reformers claim that “junk lawsuits” account for the majority of malpractice claims and clog up the legal system, and have cherry picked misleading study statistics to back up their arguments, a comprehensive Harvard study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a full 2/3 of malpractice cases involve errors made by doctors. Of that 2/3, 73% resulted in payments to plaintiffs. Of the suits that did not involve an actual doctor error, 72% did not result in payments. As Parikh says, “Those conclusions do not paint the picture of a medical-legal system burdened by ambulance-chasing lawyers and their litigious clients.”
· The cost of malpractice insurance does not drive doctors out of business in rural areas. Rural areas have always had a shortage of doctors relative to highly populated areas, and “with or without tort reform, access to care is likely to stay tight outside of big cities.”
The real culprit for high costs, according to Parikh, are the malpractice insurance companies, who are simply adhering to the tradition of making up for declining investments by increasing their premiums:
Public Citizen…notes "that a historical pattern has been established that insurance rates rise also based on the investment market…Earlier ‘crises’ (in 1975-6 and 1985-6) similar to today’s ‘crisis’ were due to declining investment fortunes and failed pricing practices of the insurance industry rather than an increase in medical malpractice filings and awards. Then, as now, the insurance industry covered its losses by raising rates dramatically, then blamed the lawyers of innocent patients rightfully seeking compensation for negligence-related injuries." –Salon.com
Most importantly, as Parikh points out, no amount of malpractice reform will help doctors save the lives of more patients. Any humanitarian discussion of health care reform will need to pay a lot more attention to the issue of patient safety.