The Myth of Frivolous Medical Lawsuits, Part 1: Corporate America’s Bait & Switch

Recently, President Obama approved $25 million dollars in an grants to research methods to reduce costs associated with medical malpractice lawsuits. As discussed in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, authored by Janet Adamy, these grants were added as a last-second compromise to this year’s sweeping health insurance reform legislation in an effort to appease spurious calls by Corporate America for “tort reform.”

Of course, complaints by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies, that medical malpractice claims are out of control and a leading cause of rising health care costs, are overblown, unsupported and are nothing more than yet another corporate hustle of the American public.

An article from FoxNews in September of 2009, features the regular misinformation of the GOP, in calling for arbitrary limits on damages to the victims of medical error and their families, that medical malpractice reform is a “critical way to drive down health care costs,” arguing that fear of frivolous lawsuits and the big payouts they can award patients drives doctors to practice ‘defensive medicine’ and has caused medical malpractice insurance rates to rise contributing to higher health care costs.”

Of course, non-biased health economists and independent legal experts who study the issue, don’t believe these claims are true. Malpractice liability costs are only but a small fraction of the spiraling costs of the U.S. health care system. Medical errors (which medical liability cases are aimed to prevent) are the true culprit and are, in themselves, a huge cost- both to the injured patients and to the health care system as a whole. In fact,a recent study by HealthGrades (PDF) showed that medical errors cost our country $8.8 billion dollars between 2004 and 2006 and accounted for more than 230,000 preventable deaths during this same time period.

“It’s really just a distraction,” said Tom Baker, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of “The Medical Malpractice Myth (PDF).”

If you were to eliminate medical malpractice liability, even forgetting the negative consequences that would have for safety, accountability, and responsiveness, maybe we’d be talking about 1.5 percent of health care costs. So we’re not talking about real money. It’s small relative to the out-of-control cost of health care.

The new health care reform bill includes common sense programs aimed at reducing preventable injuries while protecting injured plaintiffs’ legal rights, improving communication between doctors and patients and reducing liability insurance premiums. A smaller set of one-year grants will go to 13 states and health-care systems to help develop evidence-based guidelines to curb lawsuits and define legal standards of care for health-care providers.

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