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AAJ Debunks Myths About Medical Negligence

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President Obama promised a floor debate on health care reform in the House, and now that promise is coming to fruition. The debate is sure to include the classic opponents of healthcare reform, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as other tort reform proponents such as the asbestos, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies. However, one of the most problematic arguments used by these groups is that medical malpractice lawsuits are the basis for the rising cost of healthcare and that the answer is not healthcare reform. Instead, they argue that limiting “frivolous lawsuits” is the panacea to our country’s healthcare cost woes.

The American Association for Justice (AAJ), a trial lawyers group based Washington, D.C, recently released a 30-page report (pdf) outlining the pertinent arguments of the debate. Specifically, the five myths the AAJ outlines are:

Myth #1: There are too many frivolous lawsuits, and curbing the number of lawsuits would cut down the cost of healthcare.

The actual number of lawsuits filed per year is questionable. What most people don’t understand is that trial lawyers don’t have near the financial power that an insurance company does. Specifically, insurance companies can spend enormous, and seemingly endless, amounts of money to win a case. Plaintiffs’ attorneys, on the other hand, are on very tight budgets and must question the validity of every case that might come their way. Wasting money attempting to prove a case that doesn’t have merit is nonsensical, so plaintiffs’ attorneys aren’t scooping up every case possible, contrary to popular belief.

While the number of frivolous lawsuits is questionable, the number of medical negligence cases aren’t: in fact, according to the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 “To Err is Human” report, 98,000 people are killed in hospitals each year from preventable medical errors.

Furthermore, a Hearts Newspaper Group “Dead by Mistake” investigation into medical malpractice found that the number of patients affected was closer to 200,000, when hospital-acquired infections were taken into consideration.

Are all of these individuals affected by medical negligence flocking to file lawsuits? Apparently not: according to a Harvard study, only 1 in 8 people injured by medical negligence filed a malpractice claim.

Other myths included in the AAJ report include:

Myth #2:

Malpractice claims drive up the cost of healthcare

Myth #3:

Doctors are fleeing

Myth #4:

Malpractice Claims Drive up Doctors’ Premiums

Myth #5:

Tort reform will lower insurance rates

For additional information on the myths surrounding healthcare reform and the costs of healthcare, see AAJ’s "Debunking the Myths".