Is Medical Malpractice Reform Needed?

On behalf of Pat Crispi at Keogh Crispi PC

Health care costs continue to increase each year. According to the consulting firm, Milliman, Inc., in 2011 a family of four will pay on average $19,393 for health insurance coverage through employer and employee contributions plus out-of-pocket expenses. This is a 7.3 percent increase over 2010. Medical malpractice reform frequently makes the headlines as a way to reduce the cost of medical care.

However, the direct costs from malpractice lawsuits are a minuscule part of health spending. Economists have long indicated that medical malpractice costs are between half a percent and 3 percent of overall medical spending. If anything, there are fewer lawsuits than would be expected.

Too Many Patients Still Injured

Health care makes up 1/7th of the U.S. economy. The majority of the activity involves the delivery of medical services. While there are many exceptional people employed in the medical field, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has determined that more medical errors occur in our medical system than in other rich countries. A study by Harvard Medical Practice found that doctors injure one out of every 25 patients in the U.S.

Medical researchers have estimated that only two to four percent of the cases of medical negligence lead to a malpractice claim. Only a very few of those injured by medical negligence ever receive compensation.

Uncertainty May Lead Physicians to Practice Costly Defensive Medicine

Recovery for victims of medical negligence can vary from substantial to inadequate. Uncertainty over awards has created added costs as this fear increasingly inspires physicians to practice defensive medicine and request overpriced and unnecessary tests and treatments.

California-style malpractice caps have been shown to reduce medical liability payments. In the 1970's, California adopted a cap of $250,000 for pain and suffering damages. These caps vary by state from $250,000 to $500,000, but do not take into account inflation.

Due to these damage caps, fewer of the injured are able to find an attorney who is willing to take their case. Malpractice and wrongful death claims are expensive, because an attorney must hire expert witnesses, investigators and also pay for staff to prepare the case. In states with damage caps, fewer of the injured are able to seek recovery when injured by medical negligence.

Any malpractice reform must be debated in the terms of health policy and not a political referendum on personal injury litigation. Those who have been injured due to medical negligence should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in order to discuss their options for recovery, in light of the ever-changing medical malpractice justice system.