The American Medical Association and many physicians have been lobbying for medical malpractice reform for quite some time now. They tried to have medical malpractice reform included in the recently passed healthcare reform bill, but were not successful. Their stance is that medical malpractice caps would reduce healthcare costs because they would reduce the practice of “defensive medicine.” But a nonpartisan government office says this is not the case.
Medical malpractice caps would limit the amount of damages awarded in cases brought against doctors for negligence. Doctors argue that the caps would reduce healthcare costs in a couple of ways. First, malpractice insurance premiums would go down. Also, more and more doctors are practicing what is called defensive medicine, meaning they run tests and prescribe treatments that aren’t really necessary just to cover all the bases. In the event something goes wrong and a malpractice suit is filed against them, their defense can be that they literally did everything possible to treat the patient.
Defensive medicine is costly. Blood tests, X-rays, and medications are expensive, and when they’re used without valid reason, the cost is unsupportable. In addition, some treatments or medications can actually cause a patient even more harm rather than good. Doctors claim if they didn’t have to fear the possibility of paying large amounts in damages for medial malpractice, they wouldn’t have to practice defensive medicine, thereby reducing overall healthcare costs for patients.
But late last year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that medical malpractice reform would not reduce healthcare costs as much as supporters say it would. Some lawmakers have estimated medical malpractice reform would save $100 to $200 billion per year. The CBO says the figure is closer to $11 billion. In other words, the reform would lower total healthcare costs by approximately one half of one percent annually.
In actuality, medical malpractice caps help doctors more than anyone. These caps would prevent doctors from being held fully accountable for failing to treat their patients properly, or even causing patients’ deaths through negligence or indifference. Medical students are now even being instructed how to take costs into account when treating patients, and how to practice defensive medicine.
Although medical malpractice reform was not part of the healthcare reform package, doctors haven’t given up on trying to get it passed by Congress. Consumers must educate themselves about how this reform would affect them. A medical malpractice attorney can help patients understand their rights, and ensure they receive appropriate compensation for any pain and suffering caused by a doctor’s negligence.