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One of the greatest lies the insurance industry has ever tricked anyone into believing resulted in getting more than half the United States to implement medical malpractice “tort reform.” Healthcare’s great “achievement” was based on the empty promise that limiting injury victims’ ability to file medical malpractice suits would improve healthcare overall and significantly reduce costs. Such myths are now clearly debunk-able, but not enough has been made about the lies we were fed.
Take yourself back to a time when we were convinced that physicians were made to be fearful of getting sued, and so they began practicing “defensive medicine” by prescribing superfluous and costly examinations and procedures to protect themselves from those “abundant” lawsuits. That myth, too, was exposed by a recent study found published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). In fact, a team of five physicians and healthcare experts found that tort reform measures passed in at least three states that were specifically designed to detach E.R. doctors from lawsuits actually did nothing to reduce the number of expensive examinations and procedures those E.R. doctors ultimately prescribed.
This latest NEJM study follows various studies that have exposed other tort reform myths. The most audacious of those myths being that making it harder for victims to file med mal lawsuits would reduce the number of “frivolous” suits that clog up our justice system. Other such lies that were brought to light include the idea that imposing caps on the compensation victims could receive would sway these “rogue” juries who awarded “sweepstakes-like” sums to plaintiffs. And who could forget how we were promised that med mal insurance premiums would exponentially drop, reversing the physician shortage that was caused by specialists who were absconding from the healthcare field?
The fact is that none of any of this came true. And that’s because the “problems” we were duped into believing never really existed. In what is perhaps the most telling of truths, it’s now known that the Department of Justice found the median medical malpractice compensation award in jury-decided cases to be approximately $400,000. And, in bench trials where the judge also serves as the jury, the median award was approximately $631,000.
This all began in 1975 when California imposed a $250,000 cap on the amount victims of overt medical negligence could collect. Since then, more than half of the United States has followed with their own measures to cap compensation, reduce statutes of limitations, and limit the amount of money med mal attorneys could collect for representing clients whose cases were successful.
You may be wondering why the researchers chose the emergency room to perform their study. And that’s because E.R. doctors are forced to practice with minimal information on high-risk patients and have an abundance of technology at their disposal. Thus, researchers deduced that the E.R. is a setting where costs are magnified and “defensive practices” are more likely to occur. And what they found, interestingly enough, is that physicians in tort reform states who are not as fearful of med mal lawsuits prescribed the same amount of diagnostic tests like MRIs and CT scans as physicians in non-tort reform states. In this case, we have pure proof that removing the risk of being sued for medical malpractice does not change physician behavior.
Call Richards & Richards today with your Pennsylvania medical malpractice questions. We have the knowledge and experience to help you and understand tort reform, as well as how to deal with unsympathetic insurance companies. Contact us today at 412-261-2620.
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