Improving Health Care Is the Best Means of Medical Malpractice Reform
While tort reform advocates argue that medical malpractice lawsuits are the cause of rising medical costs in the United States and push for further limits on the ability of consumers to pursue legal action for preventable mistakes, the total cost of medical malpractice litigation is only 0.6% of the nation’s overall health care costs and the number of payments for claims have fallen to record lows in recent years.
A new report by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, The 0.6 Percent Bogeyman highlights how efforts to further “reform” the tort system should really be spent on improving the quality of care to reduce the number of preventable medical mistakes.
While the payments and frequency of medical malpractice lawsuits have plummeted, Public Citizen points out that there has been no actual measurable increase in medical safety. The report demonstrates that the financial impact of medical malpractice has been overinflated in an effort to further limit individual’s access to the courts.
In the introduction to their report, Public Citizen states:
The number of malpractice payments in 2008 was the lowest since the creation of the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank, which has tracked medical malpractice payments since 1998. This was not an aberration. Last year was the third consecutive year in which the number of medical malpractice payments sunk to an all-time low. The cumulative value of malpractice payments (as distinct from the number of payments) in 2008 was either the lowest or second-lowest on record, depending on how one adjusts for inflation.
Medical malpractice litigation’s share of overall health care costs, which always has been minuscule, has fallen to less than 0.6 percent even under the most liberal definition. This figure encompasses insurance companies’ overhead and profits, as well as their litigation costs and the sum of actual payments made to victims. Actual medical malpractice payments have fallen to less than 0.2 percent of all health costs – the lowest level on record.
State and federal policy makers should not take comfort in the declines in medical malpractice litigation. Rather than pointing to safer medical care, the reduction in payments almost certainly means that there are ever more malpractice victims not receiving compensation – and fewer incentives for doctors and nurses to reduce errors.