Malpractice Suits Do Not Increase Health Care Prices, Study Shows

On behalf of Pat Crispi at Keogh Crispi PC

Some lawmakers push for reform of the legal system so that there would be limits on the amounts that people bringing medical malpractice lawsuits could recover. Many feel that people are too quick to sue and that juries award damages that are too high. They argue that these lawsuits drive up health care costs for everyone else. However, a study published in the May/June 2013 issue of the Journal for Healthcare Quality revealed that the widely-held belief that huge medical malpractice payouts are a factor in the skyrocketing cost of health care in the U.S. is untrue.

Payment for catastrophic claims rare

Health care professionals categorize medical malpractice payments as "catastrophic" if they exceed $1 million. Such payments typically occur when a patient under 1 year old dies or suffers injury, a patient becomes quadriplegic, a patient needs care for the duration of his or her life or an anesthesia error is involved in the claim.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examined data in the National Practitioner Data Bank, a database maintained by the federal government of all the medical malpractice suit settlements or awards since 1986. Researchers chose to look at data from 2004 through 2010, because 2004 was the year that the records began to show the patient's age, gender and severity of injury. They found that of the 77,621 claims paid during that time period, only 6,130 - or about 8 percent - of them were catastrophic claims. The total for medical malpractice claims for the seven years the researchers focused on was $27 billion, of which $9.8 billion went to catastrophic claims.

The study also identified the types of errors that most frequently led to catastrophic claims. Diagnosis errors were the most common cause of such claims, responsible for 34.2 percent of the payouts. Errors in obstetrics were the second most common cause, at 21.8 percent, followed by surgery errors at 17.8 percent.

Refocusing reform efforts

In light of the results of their analysis, the study's authors suggested that health care providers should invest more effort into identifying the types of errors that lead to catastrophic medical malpractice claim payouts. They argue that making serious attempts at eliminating the errors would not only improve the quality of care that providers offer, but it would also do more to stem the rising cost of health care than capping medical malpractice awards.

Holding health care providers accountable

Medical malpractice awards may seem large, but they represent the cost of life-long medical care that people who are injured by health care providers' errors will need. Those in the medical field have a responsibility not to harm patients through negligent care. When they fail to meet that duty, they need to take responsibility for their actions. If you have been injured by a health care provider's error, seek the assistance of a skilled medical malpractice attorney who can help you recover just and proper compensation.