by David Morris
One of the major cost drivers in the delivery of health care are these junk and frivolous lawsuits, President Bush has told the American people. Here are seven facts that prove him wrong:
According to the Government Accountability Office, during the 1990s, insurers competed vigorously for medical malpractice business, and several factors, including high investment returns, permitted them to offer (artificially low) prices. When stock prices and bond interest rates fell, insurer income plummeted, prompting dramatic rate hikes.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, at least half of the increase in rates from 2000 to 2002 was a result of declining investment returns. The other half was a result of major companies, like the St. Paul Co. (now St. Paul Travelers) withdrawing from the malpractice insurance business altogether as investment returns declined. Thousands of physicians were forced to scramble for alternatives. Many charged exorbitant prices. The insurance crises in some states, like West Virginia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, may largely be attributed to St. Paul Company's withdrawal, a withdrawal that, a massive class action lawsuit initiated by doctors charges, was a result of illegal financial manipulation.
According to the National Practitioners Data Bank, a government service that tracks malpractice claims, verdicts and settlements, the median payout for medical malpractice rose from $100,000 in 1997 to $135,000 in 2001. The size of the award closely tracked the severity of the injury.
In 1986, the New York State Legislature commissioned an interdisciplinary team of physicians, attorneys, economists, statisticians and social research experts to diagnose the problem of soaring liability insurance premiums. Their conclusion? (F)inding fault with the tort system is easy; what is difficult is identifying an alternative that, on balance, will do better.
The medical insurance system needs fixing. One remedy is to make insurance companies more accountable. Eight of the 10 states with the lowest medical malpractice insurance rates require an approval process before the companies can raise rates. Another remedy is to require insurance companies to broaden the risk pool by combining doctor specialties so that individual disciplines such as obstetrics/gynecology, where mistakes can be devastating, are not disproportionately burdened.
The medical system needs fixing too. A horrifying statistic in a March 2000 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine testifies to the problem. Between 44,000 and 98,000 people die each year as a result of medical mistakes. One reason may be the astonishing number of hours that interns and residents work, up to 120 hours a week, including 36-hour shifts for several weeks at a time. Sleeplessness breeds mistakes. A bill introduced in Congress last year would limit the resident workweek to 80 hours.
Studies have also found a higher risk of dying in hospitals where nurses have heavier workloads. One analysis concluded that every additional patient per nurse results in a 7 percent increase in both patient mortality and deaths following complications.
There is a problem in the medical industry. But the facts indicate that it is not caused by the patients or their legal representatives.
This commentary first appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune
January 12, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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