To control health care costs, reduce medical errors, don’t reduce accountability for liability
Alliance for Justice * Consumer Action * Consumer
Watchdog * National Women’s Health Network * NCCNHR: The National Consumer
Voice for Quality Long-Term Care * Public Citizen * USAction
June 25, 2009
The Congress has taken up the task of controlling health care costs while
providing access to affordable care for all Americans. A few members have
introduced amendments that would attempt to lower health care costs by limiting
the ability of injured patients and their families to seek compensation from
negligent providers and facilities. We urge you to reject all of these
amendments. Shielding negligent parties from accountability is no way to cut
costs or provide quality care. To the contrary, it is a recipe for increasing
the nation’s epidemic of preventable errors, at enormous human and financial
cost. Instead of limiting liability, the Congress should focus on improving
patient safety. This would save not only lives, but also billions of dollars in
unnecessary medical costs.
We urge you to REJECT all amendments to health care reform legislation
that seek to limit accountability for medical liability. For example, under the
Affordable Health Choices Act, Coburn Amendment #88; Enzi Amendment #2; Gregg
Amendments #29, 30; Hatch Amendments #1, 5, 6, 8 all seek to restrict injured
patients’ legal rights.
In a recent speech before the American Medical Association, President Obama
noted that medical errors lead to 100,000 lives lost unnecessarily
hospitals every year. In 1999, the
Medicine estimated that these medical
errors cost between $37.6 billion and $50 billion each year, between $17 billion
and $29 billion of which are preventable. In the same study, the Institute of
Medicine estimated that medical errors cost the lives of between 44,000 and
98,000 patients each year. At the same time, recoveries for medical malpractice
are already extraordinarily limited. Using the most conservative estimate,
four times more people were killed by medical errors in 2008 than the number
of patients who recovered compensation for their injuries.
Moreover, most malpractice compensation is awarded to patients who suffer
extremely serious injuries. Since 2005, between 63 percent and 65 percent of all
medical malpractice payments were for significant or major permanent injuries,
such as quadriplegia or brain damage, which required lifelong care, or death.
Enacting further limits on the paltry compensation most receive would result in
real cruelty and injustice.
The Congress must also heed the costs of immunizing providers and facilities
from liability, both in terms of increased errors and new burdens on taxpayers.
First, liability limits would decrease patient safety by removing an effective
deterrent for injuries. In a 2006 New England Journal of Medicine article,
George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., wrote: “[T]he litigation system seems to protect
many patients from being injured in the first place. And since prevention before
the fact is generally preferable to compensation after the fact, the apparent
injury prevention effect must be an important factor in the debate about the
future of the malpractice litigation system.” Second, liability limits would
shift the burden of paying for medical malpractice injuries from those who are
responsible -- negligent doctors or hospitals -- to the government and American
taxpayers. Costs of errors should be borne by those responsible, rather than
shifted to others. This provides a market-based incentive for improving the
quality of care.
Finally, state-law malpractice liability limits have been largely
ineffective. The measures have failed to lower medical care costs for
patients and a number of them were struck down by courts as unconstitutional,
including in Ohio and Wisconsin. There is no reason why the Congress should
repeat the same mistakes that states have made.
We are grateful that the Congress and the president seek to extend affordable
health care to the American public, but now is not the time to reduce
accountability for wrongdoing and weaken patient safety. We urge you to reject
any amendments to the legislation that will shift costs from poorly performing
medical facilities and providers to struggling families. Those who wish to
reduce the costs of medical malpractice liability should focus on stemming the
epidemic of preventable medical errors.
Alliance for Justice
Director of National Priorities
National Women’s Health Network
Director of Public Policy
NCCNHR: The National Consumer
Voice for Quality Long-Term Care
Public Citizen’s Congress Watch