Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Malpractice Misconduct

Bob Herbert in the NY Times has run two articles on the medical malpractice "crisis" in the country where the insurance industry is attempting to pass tort reform on the state and federal level that would limit the amount the patients can win through lawsuits. But as Herbert summarizes:
What is needed is a nationwide crackdown on malpractice, not a campaign to roll back the rights of patients who are injured. This is another utterly typical example of the Bush administration going to bat for those who are economically and politically powerful against those who are economically and politically weak.

Despite claims by the insurance industry, there is no evidence that soaring malpractice premiums are the result of sharp increases in the amounts of money paid out for malpractice claims. And, tellingly, industry executives are generally careful not to say that the tort reforms sought by the Bush administration will result in premium reductions.

This is all about greed. What tort reform will lead to, not surprisingly, is an unwarranted burst of additional profits for the insurance industry, which is why the industry is sinking so much money into its unrelenting campaign for "reform."
Last week, Herbert ran an article about an Ohio obstetrician/gynecologist that President Bush had singled out as a victim of frivolous lawsuits that had run him out of business.

But as Herbert describes, "Since the early 1990's, he has settled lawsuits and agreed to the payment of damages in a number of malpractice cases in which patients suffered horrible injuries."

I have covered the malpractice controversy here most recently.

After Texas passed legislation that limits malpractice awards, rates have not gone down, as the insurance companies had promised the legislature when lobbying for limits on malpractice awards.

The facts:
  • Malpractice insurance rates are way too high, although the number of doctors being driven out of business is debatable.

  • There is no explosion of "frivolous" lawsuits

  • Rates are rising because of bad investments by the insurance companies over the past several years. (They had invested heavily in a rising stock market while cutting rates to attract customers and cash flow. Then the stock market crashed and the needed to raise rates to help their bottom line.

  • The focus needs to be on regulating the insurance industry and malpractice itself, rather than malpractice awards.
Malpractice limits are only one part of a right-wing, business-led movement for general tort reform -- limiting awards for not just medical malpractice, but also for the manufacture of dangerous products and toxic chemicals. But as we've seen (most recently in the "popcorn lung" cases), with OSHA and EPA almost completely unable to adequately regulate the safety of chemicals, lawsuits are the only way to control the use of toxic chemicals.