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Not many people know the extent of avoidable mistakes that occur in hospitals and are never disclosed to the public. However, under laws that took effect last year in Virginia and a few years earlier in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, hospitals are required to report to health regulators many serious injuries that patients suffer during treatment.

The laws vary by jurisdiction: Virginia’s laws require the public records to identify hospitals by name, while Maryland’s and D.C.’s laws allow do not. Nevertheless, the new laws allow the public to see the number of mistakes that occur in Washington region hospitals. Aptly deemed “never events”—because these events should “never happen”—hospitals have tried for years to cover these often-tragic mistakes up. However, patients, insurers, and regulators are starting to use the newly revealed information to pressure health-care providers to ensure that these event rarely—if ever—occur.

In the past, doctors would bill insurance companies for any accidental injuries that they caused and for the needed medical treatment to fix the mistake. But now insurers are refusing to pay for mistakes. For example, many insurers won’t pay for treatment of an infection caused by a dirty catheter. Many patients are backing up the insurance companies’ decision, hoping that non-payment will send a message to healthcare providers to prevent devastating errors.

In total, Maryland health regulators estimated that insurance companies paid $522 million last year to cover preventable complications in hospitals, which occurred in 55,000 of the state’s 800,000 inpatient cases. It is unfortunate that withholding payment seems to be the only method to convince healthcare providers to be more careful, but it is an incentive that has the potential to protect patients from serious and preventable injuries.

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