When your waiter makes a mistake on your lunch order, you can send it back to the kitchen or get your money back. If a mechanic makes a mistake repairing your car, you can take it back or get your money back. You can take the mechanic to small claims court. When the barber cuts your hair wrong it will grow back. When a doctor, a nurse or a hospital makes a medical mistake, you can’t take it back and you don’t get your money back. Many of these victims of medical malpractice suffer life-long, life-threatening, life-changing injuries due to the negligence of their health care provider. These patients deserve to have their medical expenses paid for. They deserve to be compensated for their lost wages and they deserve compensation for their pain and suffering.
The supporters of tort reform put forward that protecting the doctors, nurses and hospitals from being held financially responsible for their mistakes will actually help improve health care. The theory is that by reducing the financial consequences, the cost of malpractice insurance will decrease. Without the specter of lawsuits looming over their heads, doctors, nurses and hospitals will stop practicing “defensive medicine” and provide better service to their patients.
What tort reformers don’t tell you is that taking away consumers’ rights doesn’t improve the quality of health care or reduce the cost. Forty-eight states have already put caps on settlement awards and yet these legal restrictions have not reduced costs or improved health care services.
In 2003, Texas passed tort reform legislation that capped pain and suffering awards at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Yet the small town of McAllen, Texas has one of the most expensive health care markets in the country – almost double the national average. In contrast, another small town in Texas, El Paso, has roughly the same demographics but their health care costs are about half of McAllen’s. So McAllen must have some of the best health care in the country, right? But, by Medicare standards, five of McAllen’s hospitals, on average performed below El Paso’s hospitals when measured in twenty-five different metrics.
So what’s going on in McAllen? According to the tort reformers’ theories, McAllen should have affordable and some of the best health care in the country. If you read The Cost Conundrum by Atul Gawande published in The New Yorker, the high cost of health care seems to be a direct result of the doctors themselves.
“It’s a machine, my friend,” explains one surgeon.
Then there are physicians who see their practice primarily as a revenue stream. They figure out ways to increase their high-margin work and decrease their low-margin work. This is a business after all.
The tort reformers would like you to believe medical malpractice is the cause of high health care costs and poor quality health. But if you look beyond the tort reformer’s smoke and mirrors, you’ll find facts that they don’t want you to know…taking away consumers’ rights doesn’t improve the quality of health care or reduce the cost.