Malpractice lawsuit raise health care expenses
Being in college, it’s pretty understandable that healthcare costs don’t grab our attention the way that frat parties and YouTube videos do. We see ourselves as young, invincible followers of the sacred credence of “YOLO,” seemingly unaware that high medical costs have ahuge impact on us, as Forbes contributor, physician and financial planner Carolyn McClanahan points out.
Graphic by Trevor Waddell/Old Gold & Black
Massive amounts of taxpayer money go toward paying off the $1.13 trillion spent by the government on healthcare. Over the past few years the debate centered on this issue has been dominated by Obamacare. But still, even with all this talk of making healthcare affordable, one significant cause has been inexcusably swept under the rug — medical malpractice.
The primary way this has an impact is through defensive medicine, which is defined by ophthalmologist Darrell White as “…medical care of any sort that is ordered or performed solely to prevent either the filing or the loss of a medical malpractice lawsuit.” Data from White also shows that 15 to 20 percent of medical spending comes from this form of medicine and about 93 percent of doctors have admitted to using defensive medicine. But this isn’t simply the doctor’s means of making a quick buck (or thousands of bucks) at the expense of the patient.
The truth is that the threat of getting sued is so great that doctors will tend to do everything in their power to protect themselves. Now it would be one thing if the lawsuits were always justified and those punished were truly at fault. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Blogs such as Sammy Benoit’s “The Lid” have cited examples of how over the span of 12 years, John Edwards sued many people, including doctors, for millions, saying they were supposedly responsible for cases of cerebral palsy in delivered babies.
However, a 2003 study from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists showed that in most of these instances, doctors were not at fault. Opponents, such as the Center of Justice and Democracy, will bring up the high number of deaths caused annually by medical errors. But even so, it is clear with cases like this that tort reform is not only logical, but a necessity.
Business Dictionary’s website defines tort reform as something to “impose some sort of civil penalty as a method of reducing the amount of money that an injured party can receive in tort litigation cases.” This would result in fewer lawsuits, which, in turn, would result in less defensive medicine and thus lower costs. But this theory isn’t some blissful fantasy as demonstrated by Texas.
An online article from “American Medical News” mentions how Texas brought the non-economic costs of medical liability for doctors down to $250,000. This resulted in a 25 percent decline in liability rates for physicians, which led to an increase in people applying for medical licenses.
It also, according to an article from “Texans for Lawsuit Reform,” led to a reduction of costs for the public. In other words, both doctors and patients benefited from this. If we ever hope to lower the costs of medical care, we must enact tort reform to counter the frivolous lawsuits that plague the medical field. If this does not happen, not only will treatment cost patients substantially, it will also result in fewer people wanting to practice medicine (listen up pre-med students).
To my father, an anesthesiologist, the future of medicine is troubling. Even worse is the threat of doctor shortages. According to Michael J. Mishak of the Los Angeles Times, California is already trying to deal with doctor shortages (due to an increase in the number of people with insurance from President Obama’s healthcare law) by altering who is able to treat people, which would include physician assistants and pharmacists.
If we hope to avoid this happening elsewhere and keep people interested in becoming a doctor even with the troubles associated with it (medical school, accumulating massive debt from student loans and the overall uncertain direction of medicine), we must make the occupation more appealing. In the end, it is clear that tort reform is a necessity and the fact that it has not yet been put forward is troubling to say the least.