Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rational Health Care

Republicans are still using tort reform as their answer to health care reform. As if, frivolous law suits are why health care is so expensive. We’ve had caps in Missouri and Texas for years and it’s only made matters worse.

By setting arbitrary time limits to file personal injury or medical malpractice claims, putting caps on non-economic and punitive damages, and limiting liability for manufacturers of defective products, tort reform is making it extremely difficult for people to seek compensation when they have truly suffered serious losses at the hands of another. In addition, tort reform weakens the deterrent effect that civil suits have on wrongdoers.

An 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient living in a Texas nursing home facility was raped by a nurse assistant who had a history of sexual assault at previous nursing home jobs. The patient’s daughter wanted to file a negligence lawsuit against the nursing home facility for hiring the man despite his past.

However, tort reform in Texas made the lawsuit almost impossible. Attorneys advised against filing a suit, which alone could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, because it wouldn’t be worth it due to the caps on non-economic and punitive damages, the higher standard of burden of proof that falls on the plaintiff, and other tort reform strategies implemented by the state.

The nursing home who hired a sexual predator would continue to run as if nothing had happened. This woman and other victims that were once helped by the civil justice system are now regularly barred from court.

A man who was undergoing open-heart surgery woke up during the middle of his procedure because of being under-anesthetized due to medical error. For three hours, this man drifted in and out of consciousness and suffered severe pain during the surgery, but was helpless to call out in anguish. The breathing tube down his throat prevented him from making a sound and paralytic drugs left him motionless during the procedure.

Approximately 20,000 to 40,000 of the 21 million patients who receive general anesthesia before surgery wake up during their procedure from being under-anesthetized by mistake. These patients undergo extreme physical pain and suffering and often develop post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious psychological problems as a result.

Patients who have tried to speak out about anesthesia awareness have been silenced by doctors and other medical professionals They were told their experiences were “all in their head.” When this open heart patient told the nurse he had been awake during surgery, she did not believe him. When he was able to recount the doctor and nurses'' conversations and where they were standing during surgery, the nurse got the doctor. He said, “Don’t worry the patient won’t remember any of this tomorrow.”

Due to tort reform’s caps on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and mental anguish, this man and thousands of other medical malpractice victims would not be able to receive compensation for their enormous losses. Many would not even get a chance to bring their claim to court. Negligent medical professionals responsible for this nightmare would continue to threaten the well-being of patients unabated.

The really sad thing about all of this is, it doesn’t bring down the cost of healthcare! I have pointed out before that it would be cheaper for us to have single payer universal healthcare. Please refer to my Associated Content article from 2008, it still applies.


Anonymous said...

I see your view, but there are other things to consider. When malpractice suits are filed, everyone and anyone is named in the suits. There can be tens or hundreds of defendants in these suits who get dropped later because they shouldn't have been named or don't have deep pockets. Without punitive limits, juries can make awards in the tens of millions. Such awards are far beyond the limits of malpractice insurance and can drive a Dr. into bankruptcy.

Anonymous said...

In response to anonymous - an attempt should be made to realistically cap, depending on the situation. It is really not possible to adequately compensate for death due to carelessness on the part of a physician or loss of the wrong limb in the case of amputation. A doctor, for instance, or even preparatoy staff, should be held accountable and, in my opinion, should be bankrupt, lose license AND pay the cost in every way!

Carolyn Udell

Doggie said...

In 2003 ago Texas passed a medical malpractice law that capped awards for pain and suffering at $250,000, and brought the number of malpractice lawsuits down dramatically.
The cost of health care in Texas should be down since doctors don’t face the same malpractice threats as the rest of the country. In fact, Texas is home to three of the top ten most expensive cities in the country to receive health care: McAllen, Harlingen and Corpus Christi. In each of these cities, every Medicare patient is costing the country more than $10,000 a year (a couple thousand more than the national average).
In 2005 Missouri, my home state , did the same thing with equally negative results.
Why is there even an argument?

Anonymous said...

The factors that effect healthcare costs are many. And a few, or even many, data points don't establish a relationship. For instance, gulf coast cities may have higher elderly populations, leading to higher costs. Please explain the mechanism that limits on damages cause costs to rise.

Doggie said...

The fact remains, tort reform did nothing!

Anonymous said...

It did do something. It reduced the number of innocent bystanders being named in lawsuits by lawyers looking for the deepest pockets.