The Washington Post reported today that lobbyists for doctors and their insurers met regularly in D.C. to draft an overhaul of the nation’s medical malpractice laws. As I’ve discussed, the resulting legislation proposed strict limits on damages for the people most victimized by preventable medical errors. The goal? To peddle a false narrative to increase profits. Even more disturbing is that lobbyists were able to rapidly shepherd their bill to House passage with virtually no input from the public or members of Congress.
The revolving door of excuses for this legislation lacks any foundation in fact. Proponents of these laws, who benefit financially from the lobbying efforts, currently argue that “frivolous lawsuits are driving up the cost of health care.” Truly “frivolous” lawsuits are rarely successful and rarely ever filed by attorneys. A cap on damages will have little to no effect on “frivolous” cases. The effect of such foolish legislation will only impact meritorious cases–cases where the health care providers were negligent. Surgeons have maimed patients, set them on fire in the OR, burned them with lasers, left instruments and other objects inside of patients, amputated the wrong extremity, and prescribed medications that killed or severely injured patients. Money is the only compensation our justice system can offer these victims.
Asking insurance companies if malpractice awards are too high or increasing costs is like asking a dog if it is hungry. The answer is always “yes.”
There were no facts to support prior claims that malpractice cases caused physician shortages. So that excuse has faded away. Now it is about costs because people’s health insurance premiums are increasing. Perfect scapegoat for a new false narrative.
If there is a shortage of physicians, why not look for the real cause?
First, how about student debt? Few very intelligent people, who will make competent physicians, want to lug around $250,000 worth of inescapable debt. Medical schools are extremely expensive. After four years of medical school, a year of internship, 2-7 years of residency, and (possibly) 2-5 more years of a fellowship, I imagine the debt can balloon to almost $500,000. How about lowering the cost of medical school or providing debt relief?
Second, wages tend to be lower in rural areas. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, what medical student can afford to practice in a rural area? Also, do you think rural doctors welcome new health care providers to their community, doctors who will poach their revenue stream?
Third, there are numerous problems with privatized Medicaid. Many insurers are slow to pay doctors and hospitals, and they block tests and medical care for patients. Hospitals and doctors’ offices cannot stay open if they are not being paid timely. Hospitals and doctors’ offices cannot safely treat patients if treatment is being denied.
Fourth, I think the facts speak for themselves. States that enacted medical malpractice caps and legal obstacles to fair compensation have not seen drops in malpractice insurance premiums and health insurance premiums continue to rise.
In the end, it is all about money and profits. Not patient safety. Not patient control of their health care.
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