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Feb. 24, 2010

Public Citizen Implores Congress to Stand Up to Liability Insurers During Health Care Summit

Focus Should Shift to Preventing Malpractice, Protecting Patients 

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – As lawmakers join President Barack Obama’s health care summit and try to develop legislation they can agree on, Public Citizen urges them not to shield negligent doctors and hospitals from accountability because it puts patients at risk and wastes taxpayer dollars, Public Citizen wrote in a letter sent today to congressional leadership.

 Limits on medical malpractice liability have no place in legislation that seeks to improve access to quality care and decrease costs. So-called tort “reform” laws increase the risk of medical negligence and shift the costs away from those who should pay — doctors and hospitals that have committed malpractice — to taxpayers, Public Citizen said.

 “Although many states have enacted some form of tort reform, their health care costs have still skyrocketed,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Litigation is not the problem. Researchers estimate that there are nearly 10 times as many injuries caused by medical negligence as malpractice suits filed. The problem is a crisis in patient safety. If Congress wants to save money, not to mention lives, it should focus on improving the care patients get in the first place.”

The Institute of Medicine estimated 10 years ago that nearly 98,000 Americans die a year from medical errors in hospitals, which cost between $17 billion to $29 billion annually. A 2009 investigation by Hearst newspapers concluded that approximately 200,000 Americans die every year from preventable medical errors and health care-associated infections. And a Public Citizen investigation found that fixing a mere 10 types of medical errors, such as by shortening shifts and increasing supervision of medical residents, would save, conservatively, 85,000 lives and $35 billion per year.

“Modest improvements in patient safety would save far more money than draconian limits on medical liability, and they would save tens of thousands of lives, too,” Arkush said.

Public Citizen urges Congress to stand up for patients and American taxpayers, not malpractice liability insurers.

To read the letter sent to Congress, visit: http://www.citizen.org/documents/PC_summit_letter.pdf.

To learn more about medical malpractice, visit: http://www.citizen.org/documents/Medical_Malpractice_Fact_Sheet.pdf.

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