Heartfelt with Dr Melissa Walton-ShirleyView all posts »
President Obama: Ignoring tort reform equals administrative malpracticeDec 20, 2009 23:09 EST
On December 2, 2009, Dr Kenneth Coleman of Schenectady, NY, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that "It is patients who most need tort reform. " Although I doubt any physician in their right mind would argue that point, it is certainly debatable based on what the great state of Texas has done for its economy by tackling this previously insurmountable task. Texas has proven that tort reform isn't just for patients anymore. It would benefit all of our citizens, including our own President Obama, who will be facing another bid for the presidency before we know it. A tort-reform policy is quite possibly the best potential option to ensure the reelection of a president who started off "hot" and then found himself swimming in the hottest of political waters almost as soon as he took his hand off the bible.
Apparently, reforming our archaic shotgun-blast approach to filing medical lawsuits isn't as difficult as it's been billed. According to the Perryman Group report, reform efforts in Texas have yielded an annual increase in spending of $112 billion: $51 billion in goods and services, $2.6 billion in state tax revenue, $468 million from safer products, $15 billion from enhanced innovations, and an increase in 499 000 permanent jobs. To date, 430 000 more Texans now have affordable health insurance. Is it just me? Doesn't anyone else see the "Bs" for billions in all of this? Aren't the "Bs" for billions the bone of contention as the price tag for our current healthcare reform bill? Why not fix our failing economy by tapping into medicine's most abundant natural resource, medical malpractice? By limiting caps at $750 000 and requiring a "burden of proof" like that in criminal law with a unanimous jury, tort reform can be a reality for our entire nation. If I may, I'd like to add a Walton-Shirley clause and demand we wipe the airways clean of those obnoxious "please let me sue anybody for anything now" commercials, especially those that scream, "Have you been injured by your cardiologist?"
Are we making too much of this? Is malpractice really that big of a deal in our country? Apparently, that's a big fat YES. Medical-malpractice claims are as American as apple pie. According to several sources, over 80% of the world's claims are filed right here in the good old US of A. Reports have estimated that 50% to 65% of US physicians will be sued in their practice lifetime. We'll pay around 3% of our income annually to employ a good malpractice carrier, and the cost of coverage for the average American doctor has increased over 50% since the late 1980s. Incredibly, it's still rising. About half of the claims are against emergency-room physicians and almost as many are filed against surgeons. In America, no physician is immune, and every poor outcome an opportunity. No one can die here unless it's someone else's fault, and, heaven forbid, never inject any personal responsibility on behalf of the patient into any scenario.
Our system of delivering healthcare needs reforming, but it can't happen without tort reform. Unfortunately, the current system places both patients and physicians in the position of pawns in a nationwide lottery for which only malpractice lawyers have the winning tickets. If we'd take a clue from the Texan approach, we could improve patient protection and at the same time, preserve a mechanism by which we could compensate individuals who are victims of negligence or ignorance. In addition, patients would enjoy multiple benefits of tort reform Texas style such as an influx of new physicians and improved access to care. From 2003 to 2004, nearly two thousand physicians were newly licensed in the Lone Star state. Furthermore, existing practices opened up again to obstetric, neurosurgical, radiation, and oncologic procedures. Malpractice insurance fell by 50%, and 70% fewer hospitals were sued.
Tell me. Where is the downside in all of this? (Malpractice lawyers need not answer).
I agree with Dr Coleman. "The tort system is an extremely poor means of recourse for patients," and I'll add that, for President Obama, sticking with the "status quo" sue fest is an extremely poor means of winning a reelection. Ignoring this grand opportunity to increase revenue, create jobs, stimulate safe product innovation, and provide both protection and compensation for patients can only be described as one thing: Presidential Administrative Malpractice.
Wonder if he has any insurance to cover that?
1. Coleman K. It is patients who most need tort reform. N Engl J Med 2009; 361:e115. PMID: 19955516.