The Deception Behind Medical Malpractice Reform

Medical Malpractice Cases

The current healthcare debate is now turning to the issue of medical malpractice tort reform. For decades now, the health insurance industry and its lobbyists have been quick to attribute the high cost of healthcare to frivolous litigation and the so-called resulting escalating costs of medical malpractice insurance premiums doctors and hospitals have been required to pay.

Over the past thirty years, medical insurance companies and professional interest groups have mounted one of the sophisticated yet misleading public relations campaigns in modern history. Yet government commissioned studies have shown year after year, that there are more serious injuries sustained by medical malpractice cases then by automobile accidents.

Studies have also shown that most patients, who do suffer serious injuries as the result of negligent medicine, do not end up taking legal action against their doctor or medical provider. A study released by the National Academy of Sciences, attributed up to one hundred thousand patients needing to be hospitalized every year resulting from some form of physician negligence.

According to surveys published by a number of state medical boards, doctors in the field of obstetrics ended up paying the most for malpractice insurance, as a percentage of gross revenue, while nearly 7%, of cardiologists paid the least, just under 2%.

The insurance company position has continued to be that undeserving claimants file medical malpractice lawsuits out of ignorance or greed and are not aware that their malpractice claims lack either legal and/or medical efficacy. Yet what medical insurance companies do not disclose, is that most medical malpractice cases never make it to trial and those that do, end up in a favorable verdict for the doctor.

Lets take a look at just one medical malpractice case. In 2007, Julie, a thirty-six year old nurse suffered from a facial tick for which she sought medical care and treatment from a physician who claimed to specialize in repairing these types of facial nerve disorders.

 What Julie and her family did not know however was that the neurosurgeon had been investigated by his respective medical board for repeatedly performing unnecessary and unreasonably dangerous procedures and was only months away from possibly losing his medical license.  For Julie and her family, life was about to change forever.

During the surgery, the doctor admittedly cut an intracranial blood vessel, which was feeding blood to Julie’s brain. As a result, she suffered a stroke on the operating table and lost her hearing, sight and movement on one side of her body. After a five-day jury trial, the doctor, was found not to be liable for Julies stroke nor for any of its devastating consequences that followed.

A little known fact is that even if Julies doctor was found legally responsible for causing her stroke, in jurisdictions that have adopted medical insurance reform caps, the most Julie would be legally entitled to recover for her pain and suffering and general damages is $250,000. Nearly a third of the states have already legislated some form of limits on general damage awards in medical malpractice cases.  Consumer groups charge that the cap falls far short of what many victims of medial malpractice actually deserve.

The issue of malpractice insurance has become a polarizing issue in our country. More than half the nation’s state legislatures have already considered imposing damage caps on medical malpractice general damage awards.

 In high-risk medical fields such as obstetrics and neurology, on average, doctors still spend less on malpractice insurance than on their office rent. Government data, released by congressional advisory committees have shown that at the national level, less then 4% of a physicians gross income goes to paying medical malpractice insurance premiums.

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