Some politicians have thrown ‘tort reform’ into the mix of President Obama’s new health care plan under the guise of saving money. Several states already have full-fledged tort reform measures in place where the state legislature has set caps on the amount of money an injured person can recover.
Years after many of these damage caps have been put into place, neither physician malpractice premiums nor individual health insurance rates have declined.
Nonetheless, rather than debate the philosophical aspects of imposing limits on recovery, here are some facts regarding tort reform:
- Medical malpractice has no place in the healthcare debate. Healthcare reform is about making sure that every American has access to quality, low-cost healthcare, not about limiting the legal rights of innocent patients harmed by medical negligence.
- Tort reform does not improve the quality of our healthcare system or produce cost savings. Forty-eight states have already enacted at least one medical malpractice tort reform measure. Yet, these legal restrictions have done nothing to improve our health care system—forty seven million Americans still have no health care, costs are still escalating and 98,000 Americans still die each year from preventable medical errors. Limiting the legal rights of injured patients will do nothing to fix these problems.
- Medical malpractice is about real people, with real injuries. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 98,000 people die each year in the US from preventable medical errors. And, this number does not even include the countless other people who are injured by medical errors. Rather than reforming the legal system that provides protections to these injured patients, we must focus on reforming the medical system in this country to prevent these errors from ever happening in the first place.
- There is no medical malpractice crisis. In 2008, medical malpractice payments accounted to 0.2 percent of all health costs – the lowest level on record. Furthermore, researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health have found that nearly all medical negligence claims are meritorious, with 97 percent of claims involving medical injury and 80 percent involving physical injuries resulting in major disability or death.
- Americans should not have to give up rights, in order to gain the right to healthcare. President Obama has repeatedly stated that in America, healthcare is a right. Likewise, Americans should not have to relinquish their constitutionally protected 7th Amendment rights in order to gain access to quality healthcare.
- Lawmakers should focus on the key issues. Achieving consensus on the health reform is an extremely delicate balance. Lawmakers must not unnecessarily insert extraneous, controversial issues such as tort reform into an already complicated issue.
- Health courts would be an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare. They would exchange a patient’s constitutional right to a jury trial for a schedule of pre-determined outcomes that would be handed out by judges more interested in appeasing special interests than rendering justice to the injured patients standing before them. And health courts would not protect patients from wrongdoers, but instead, would shield doctors and hospitals from accountability for their careless, harmful acts. Health courts truly are an unfair proposition for patients.
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