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Medical malpractice lawsuit crisis? No, just a medical malpractice crisis.

REPUBLICANS HINTING AGAIN AT TORT REFORM

With control of Congress and the White House, there are murmurings that Republicans will resurrect tort reform such as caps on medical malpractice compensation. The argument goes that rampant medical malpractice litigation is driving up the costs of health care and runaway juries are driving good doctors out of business.

But the facts do not support the hysteria. Medical malpractice lawsuits are actually down. Malpractice insurance premiums are also way down. It's as tough as ever to win a malpractice verdict. So why the push? Malpractice "reform" represents a financial windfall to physicians, health care corporations and insurance companies.

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INDUSTRY EXPERTS SAY 'CRISIS' DOES NOT REFLECT REALITY 

Physician groups have long complained about the threat of lawsuits and costs of medical malpractice insurance. Trial lawyers have long resisted tort reform -- people who are irreparably harmed by medical negligence deserve justice.

Leading the charge on tort reform is Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, who is tapped by Donald Trump to run Health and Human Services (HHS). Price is an orthopedic surgeon who has decried the impact of frivolous lawsuits. He asserts that the fear of being sued forces doctors to practice defensive medicine, adding "hundreds of billions of dollars" of unnecessary testing and treatment.

The facts do not match the Republicans' narrative:

  • Medical errors cause more than 250,000 deaths each year, and countless injuries.
  • Medical malpractice insurance rates are at their lowest since 2001.
  • The number of malpractice claims is half of what it was in 2003.
  • In states with stronger lawsuit protections, doctors still practice defense medicine.

THERE ARE NO 'FRIVOLOUS' MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWSUITS 

In Maryland and many states, a lawsuit cannot be filed without an affidavit from a physician in the same field of medicine who attests that malpractice likely occurred. The vast majority of malpractice claims are never pursued because of the standard of proof, the costs of litigation and the reluctance of medical professionals to testify against their peers. The cost of an expert witnesses alone is tens of thousands of dollars, making it prohibitive to bring a case with minor injuries or weak facts.

A keystone of malpractice reform is a cap on non-economic damages (pain and suffering). Maryland already has a cap of $785,000. Tort reformers cite California, which caps non-economic damages at $250,000. Plaintiff lawyers argue that an artificially low cap translates to turning down many otherwise viable malpractice victims. Since law firms bear the up-front costs of litigation, with no guarantee of compensation, only the most catastrophic cases justify the substantial investment.

Tell your elected officials that you do not support tort reform. The civil justice system should be allowed to play out. Juries typically side with physicians in malpractice trials, but when they do award damages it should fully reflect the severity of harm and the degree of negligence.

Source: Top Republicans say there's a medical malpractice crisis. (Washington Post)

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