Medical malpractice tort reform is a familiar yet controversial topic that has been making its way back into the spotlight due to November’s mid-term elections and the recent federal health care law. St. Louis attorney Christopher K. Yarbro wrote an informative op-ed article on this matter last week in an effort to navigate through all the political proproganda and educate us on some truths about tort reform.
"Politicians, pundits, and physicians are casting stones against individuals who seek help from the court system for substandard medical treatment," says Yarbro. "Proponents again are championing limitations on medical malpractice cases to protect against increasing health care costs and a failing health care system."
Tort reform proponents argue that by placing a statutory cap on non-economic damages and curbing "frivolous" med mal lawsuits will help rehabilitate our health care system. They tout that med mal lawsuits hike up health care costs and drive Illinois physicians out of the state, and perhaps even out of the pratice of medicine. Not true. Research shows that med mal lawsuits do not increase doctors’ insurance premiums, nor do will reforming them decrease insurance rates or liability premiums. Yarbro’s article pokes holes in most recycled arguments these right-winged supporters of tort reform make with the following facts:
- "A Harvard School of Public Health study that analyzed more than 1,400 closed malpractice claims concluded that more than 97% of filed medical malpractice claims were meritorious. And of those, 80% involved death of serious injury."
- "Malpractice claims do not drive up health care costs. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners most recent analysis in 2007, the total spent defending claims and compensating victims of substandard care was $7.1 billion, just 0.3 percent of total $2.2 trillion health care costs. In 2008, that number fell to $6.2 billion."
- "Doctors are not fleeing the practice of medicine… Advocates of medical malpractice reform often argue that Illinois is the leading example of doctors fleeing because of an unfavorable litigation climate. However, the number of licensed physicians engaged in "patient care" in Illinois never has declined. Instead, Illinois has more doctors per capita than California, Ohio and Texas, states that have limited malpractice compensation."
- "An American Association of Justice analysis in 2008 of financial statements filed by the 10 largest malpractice insurers found that the average profits of these companies are higher than 99 percent of all Fortune 500 companies."
In addition to debunking generic political propoganda talking points, Yarbro warns that limiting compensation that victims of severe medical malpractice can receive has a higher pricetag than some are willing to admit: the dismantaling of our basic constitutional rights. Like every Missourian, every Illinois citizen has a constitutionally-protected right "to have a jury of their peers determine the merits of a medical malpractice case. This includes the ability to have the jury determine the extent of the harms cuased by substandard medical care and the amount necessary to fully compensate for the harms," Yarbro professes. This constitutional right was drafted by our founding fathers to remove hostile legislatures from encroaching the jury box, and Illinois’ Supreme Court has now thrice rules that non-economic damages caps is unconstitutional. Let us not forget this.
Victims of catastrophic injuries due to medical negligence should not have sacrifice their deserved compensation for the sake of the "greater good" of our failing health care system. Whatever effect powerful insurance companies’ have on the practice of physicians and the business of hospitals should not be corrected at med mal victims’ expense.