Is tort reform a key element of driving down the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors and keeping healthcare costs in check?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Now here’s an issue I haven’t heard about in a while!  The brouhaha over Obamacare and its attendant bureaucratic explosion has driven tort reform and malpractice reform from the front of the health care discussion, but the problem is still very much in existence.

There are bad doctors just as there are bad cops, teachers, short order cooks, dry cleaners and (especially) politicians.  But because of the potentially lethal consequences of incompetence, doctors have to carry extra protection to ensure that those whom they club with their poorly wielded caduceus are properly recompensed.  That’s a fine system, and if it were limited to just that there wouldn’t be such an issue.

Now I have no personal issue with the legal profession.  A good lawyer can fix all manner of scrapes and has made my life a more peaceful one on several occasions.  However, just as with any profession, a few bad apples can spoil the barrel.  Greedy malpractice lawyers, looking to line their own pockets by convincing people they’ve been injured by doctors and should sue, have driven the cost of malpractice insurance through the roof.

Medical schools in the United States are the finest in the world.  Students from all over the globe come here to study.  The training doctors receive is rigorous, and the washout rate is tremendous.  Those who survive the undergraduate years, then grad school, then internships have walked through fire to make it to their chosen field.  And the training gets better and more demanding every year.  With this being the case, it beggars the imagination that malpractice judgments and the number of cases filed goes up almost every year.  The apple in one hand doesn’t equate to the rotten egg in the other.

What is needed are damage caps, medically trained advisory councils to judge the merits of malpractice cases before they reach the courts, and severe penalties for attorneys found to be ginning up false suits and lining their own pockets at the expense of honest physicians.  That’s a start, at least.

 

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Few topics of discussion seem muddier than tort reform and its effect on healthcare costs.  Advocates for reducing an individual’s ability to sue a doctor or hospital for malpractice claim this limitation will drive down exorbitant insurance costs and therefore reduce healthcare costs.  Opponents of tort reform claim either malpractice insurance rates are not a huge factor in overall healthcare costs, or lawsuits and payouts to plaintiffs have been dropping in recent years in states that have not enacted tort reform as well as in states that have enacted tort reform.

I used to be in the camp that believed the lack of tort reform was a big factor in high healthcare costs.  Now I’ve changed my mind.  While malpractice costs have at least stabilized over the years based on the information I’ve gathered, other costs such as overbilling by hospitals, exorbitant drug price increases, and higher costs of caring for uninsured people have supplanted malpractice insurance premiums and lawsuits as bigger chunks of the health-care-cost pie.

If tort reform is undertaken to reduce healthcare costs, it should only be done in a way that guarantees individual rights to sue for damages are not restricted.  Placing a value on any human life, or placing a value on someone’s pain and/or mental anguish, is arbitrary at best.  Moreover, despite the myriad laws in place to protect consumers against harm from health care providers’ products and services, the ability to sue for damages remains one of the more effective means of ensuring healthcare providers always strive to provide safe and effective drugs, tests, and treatments to patients.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Tort reform is one element that is connected to driving down the cost of malpractice insurance for doctors and keeping healthcare costs in check, but there are additional reasons for the escalating costs of healthcare that are inherent in today’s healthcare system.  It is a divisive issue that has been addressed by the states, but the federal government at this point has distanced itself from it.

Malpractice reform, also known as medical tort reform, has been pushed forward in a number of states that have included California and Texas and 38 plus others.  The states have varying rules and financial limits on damages, which are usually between $250,000 for pain and suffering, and $500,000 for punitive damages.  Other provisions may include payments that are made through other insurance companies and worker’s compensation that are deducted from any legal damage award.  There are also statutes of limitations, usually a year for an adult and three years for children, as well as fair share rules that say that a health care provider is only responsible for his or her share of the illness or injury.  These constraints and others, such as liability limitations, procedural changes, and the reduction of marginal cases have held back some of the costs of rising healthcare, but there are still costs that occur through circumstances not related to malpractice.

The cost of medical malpractice is influenced by both the direct costs of malpractice liability premiums for doctors, and the indirect costs of doctors covering themselves through other processes to decrease the risk of possible future malpractice lawsuits (defensive medicine).  Doctors will perform numerous tests (oftentimes unnecessary), other procedures and treatments simply to ensure that they are protected from any unforeseen medical complications and legal entanglements with patients.  Both of these areas of expense affect healthcare costs but they, too, are not the total reasons for the skyrocketing costs of healthcare.

There are still patients  who have been injured that will continue to pursue malpractice claims, and their attorneys who represent them  will  persist in fighting tort reform, as they believe patients have to be protected against careless doctors.  Usually doctors welcome tort reform, believing it will protect their patients from having to basically contribute to the high costs of malpractice insurance, and they feel that patients will have better access to other health care services that might not be available to them because of the high cost of malpractice insurance.  Most health care providers feel that tort reform can cut the costs of malpractice insurance and health care costs in general, but they also know that malpractice costs as a whole are only a smaller part of the problem with rising health care costs.

The primary driver of higher health care costs is the lack of insurance coverage that millions of Americans currently do not have, even with the supposed coverage  of Obamacare (Affordable  Care Act) coming into play.  Other costs figured into the mix concerning lack of coverage come through those using medical care systems that are outside of it (non-citizens and others). They take advantage of gaining free health care through the emergency room, county facilities and clinics, and the costs incurred with uninsured individuals are unrecoverable.  Other added costs are accumulated through those with chronic health conditions and poorer health as well as loss of productivity and shortened lives.  All of these circumstances lead to doctors, hospitals and other providers never being paid, so they have to resort to writing off the costs of the uninsured, which eventually end up in higher and higher costs of health insurance premiums.

Tort reform is one of the elements of keeping health care costs in check, and regulatory legislation through the states has helped to defray many of the costs of malpractice lawsuits, but the costs of the uninsured and the extenuating circumstances that come from those expenses are what drive health care costs over the edge.  Tort reform does need to remain at the forefront to keep that particular aspect of health care reform in the picture, but the more involved escalating costs of the uninsured are what impact the economics of the health care dilemma.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Health care is a risky business for physicians and doctors.  Without a qualm, they make every effort to perform their jobs in a loving way, but there are eventualities.  Things do happen and go wrong in cases of deviation from conventional practices or simply negligence.  In these sad occurrences, physicians are required to have malpractice insurance in cases where law suits are drawn up against them.  Like all other insurance, malpractice insurance is used as a method of coverage and protection for the parties involved.  However, this insurance can be deemed expensive for physicians who are required to carry it.  With malpractice insurance this expensive, healthcare costs will sky-rocket to meet the demands.  Are there any effective ways to driving down these costs so that both parties benefit?

A study of the health market has shown, over the years, a drastic decrease in malpractice costs.  This is the AMA’s solution to level the playground, so to speak, and the challenge of raising the costs associated with health care.  However, healthcare costs still continue to rise.  Would tort reform need to be a driving force in lowering these costs?  In my estimation, tort reform is a key element to target.  These areas would cap or limit how much money patients are to receive in cases where they bring up a law suit for malpractice.  To supplement that, it would also restrict how much a judge can order a physician to pay out in damages.

 

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