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The Secret No One Will Tell About Health Care Reform

“If you really want to reform health care and lower costs, do something about medical malpractice suits,” doctors are telling Congress. Sounds like the number of malpractice claims paid have gone up, right? Wrong, the facts show in the last 20 years they have dropped in half? In half, mind you, according to the Kaiser Foundation! “That can’t be,” you say, “that’s not what everybody says! Well, maybe there are fewer paid claims, but those that are paid have skyrocketed, right?” Wrong — from 2003 to 2008, the total amount paid for medical malpractice claims have been cut in half! In fact, malpractice insurance costs are stabilizing in most parts of the country, even as Congress lurches along on legislation some say should do more to address it.” These were the comments of Maggie Mertens in a NPR Blog called Docs Case For Tort Reform Gets Harder To Make.

Mertens further reported, “A big majority, 94 percent of malpractice premiums either stayed the same or decreased in 2009, according to the annual Medical Liability Monitor survey. The news follows a four-year trend of medical liability insurance premiums dropping nationwide.”

Some argue we would solve our health care cost problem if we adopted the medical malpractice restrictions placed on injured people. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) responded to the question raised by Republican Senator Hatch that it would save one-fifth of 1 percent of the money spent on health care a year. CBO added that as medical providers escape from responsibility, more people would die from medical negligence. The Institute of Medicine reported that medical negligence is already killing 98,000 people a year–equivalent to the whole population, every man, woman, and child in Albany N.Y. or Gary Indiana, every year.

Why has the number of medical malpractice cases being filed steadily dropped? Is that a good thing? I guess it depends if you are a medical malpractice insurance company. Making and keeping more money is a company’s ultimate goal, so certainly they would be happy. But, what about the public? Is it good for the public? Case filings are dropping because injured patients cannot find lawyers who will take their cases. They are unable to get their day in court — to exercise a basic, fundamental Constitutional right. Why won’t lawyers take their cases? Wouldn’t they make millions and get rich suing hospitals and doctors? Buy big houses and drive expensive cars? Smoke big black cigars? Well, that is the picture insurance companies have painted and spent enormous sums money on PR to sell the picture to the public who have bought it “hook, line, and sinker.” Lawyers are reluctant to take a medical malpractice case for many reasons.

1) Medical malpractice cases are very expensive and take a long time to prepare and get to trial. It is not unusual for the lawyer to have 2 to 4 years of work without pay (if taken on a contingency), thousands of hours, and up to $100,000 in expenses the lawyer usually has to advance (because clients can’t afford it). I know, no crocodile tears for the lawyers, but what about deserving patients that can’t find a lawyer? Because of the cost, only the rich could afford to pay fees and cost if the case is not taken on a contingency. Justice denied and the courthouse would be locked to all — it is to most even with the current system.

2) Medical malpractice cases are tough to win. In Alabama, the patient loses 80 to 90% of the cases taken and tried. Similar ratios exist in many other states. Our juries are very protective of doctors and hospitals — right or wrong. It is estimated that only about one in 100 cases reviewed by lawyers are taken, and only half of those injured by medical negligence even contact a lawyer.

3) The damages in a medical malpractice case must be catastrophic for the award to cover the cost and fees. As you can see, if a lawyer has $150,000 to $200,000 in a case with time and cost, even if the lawyer has a 40 to 50% contract, an award of $400,000 would be a break even or loss for the lawyer. No matter how much the lawyer wants to help, the economics is overwhelming. Therefore, even clear cases of liability with serious losses can’t be taken. Doctors and hospitals often get a free pass on cutting off the wrong fingers or causing repeat surgery because they messed up. Even if the damages are catastrophic, with huge medical expenses, the medical insurance companies get all their money paid back from any award or settlement. The patient and the lawyer fighting big insurance companies are most often the losers.

Don’t buy the gobbly gook being sold by those who are being paid to spew misinformation, or the moneyed or political interest to feather their own beds! If we don’t protect ourselves by protecting the judicial system, we can’t count on corporate America, to protect us. We need reform all right! Reform that will protect our rights and those we love, not reform to fill the pockets of greedy insurance companies with more greenbacks!


  1. Gravatar for Kathy Ferrell, Legal Nurse Consultant
    Kathy Ferrell, Legal Nurse Consultant

    I agree with your comments completely. Pretty soon there will be no one to advocate for the injured patient. As staffs are sliced in our hospitals for profit sake and the acuity level of the patient's illness increases, more medical errors will occur in spite of electronic advances which are supppose to safeguard the patients. The acuity level of our hospitalized patients require more invasive procedures all of which present opportunity for damage to vessels, entry of bacteria, and other assaults to the body. And that does not even account for callous, arrogant or just overworked health care providers who take chances knowingly for the sake of saving time and effort. The rise in healthcare costs cannot be placed at the feet of ligiation. It is a complex issue involving the rising cost of pharmacy, amazing equipment advances, poor diets leading to needed treatment diabetes, hypertension, obesity etc, healthcare fraud and yes greed from for- profit hospitals, insurance companies, medical suppliers and others. The only ones being left bout in this complex issue is the patient. Who speaks for him?

    Kathy Ferrell BS RN LNCC

    Legal Nurse Consultant

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