Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Barbara Holzer, Broadcast Manager
w. (202) 588-7716
bholzer@citizen.org

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779
kgower@citizen.org

Dan Hockensmith, Communications Officer (Global Trade Watch)
w. (202) 454-5108
dhockensmith@citizen.org

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog
Facebook/publiccitizen

Follow us on Twitter

 

Note: This press release was updated on April 7, 2011.

Nov. 16, 2010  

HHS Report Is a Wake-Up Call to Fix National Patient Safety Crisis

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

More than a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) alerted the nation to a crisis of medical errors in hospitals. Today, we learn that nothing has changed and that patients are suffering needless injuries and deaths from preventable medical mistakes. The Inspector General’s office of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has reconfirmed what has been reported repeatedly over the years: that the country is in a patient safety crisis, and that medical professionals, lawmakers and regulators must do significantly more to avert it.

The IOM’s 1999 landmark report, “To Err is Human,” dropped the first bombshell, reporting that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year from medical mistakes, costing an estimated $17 billion to $29 billion annually. HHS’ new finding that medical mistakes kill 15,000 Medicare patients a month equates to 180,000 Medicare deaths per year - more than the IOM’s estimate, which attempted to cover all patients in the United States. The total annual death toll from medical errors in the U.S. is still unknown, but it must be far worse than 180,000. But perhaps the most startling finding by HHS is that a significant number of patients suffered injuries or died needlessly, as 44 percent of the medical errors were preventable.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the patient safety emergency facing us as the lives and national health care costs rack up on a daily basis. Given that 1.6 million Medicare patients suffer injuries every year from medical mistakes with an annual taxpayer price tag of at least $4.4 billion, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform should consider ways to reduce the federal budget deficit by preventing medical errors.

The president’s deficit commission should focus on patient safety rather than the dangerous “tort reform” proposals offered last week by its co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Making health care safer would be a far more effective and just means of saving money than curtailing the rights of malpractice victims or insulating doctors from accountability for wrongdoing. Shielding doctors from liability for their errors only exacerbates the patient safety crisis and promotes higher health care costs. Malpractice payments are at the lowest they have ever been since they were first recorded in 1990, which means that despite the epidemic of medical errors, fewer victims are receiving compensation for their injuries and fewer medical providers are being held accountable for the harm they cause. In fact, there are nearly 10 times as many injuries caused by medical negligence as there are malpractice claims.

The only workable solution to preventing unnecessary deaths and injuries is to combine much more patient-protective hospital protocols with much better scrutiny by hospitals of physicians and other health care providers, and to appropriately discipline those whose performance results in preventable patient harm.

Congress and the federal agencies should treat the HHS report as a wake-up call. Instead of flirting with ways to eliminate patients’ legal rights, they must save costs and lives by taking affirmative steps to help patients.

Note: For Public Citizen’s 2009 report on how to save 85,000 lives and $35 billion in health care delivery, go to http://www.citizen.org/documents/BackToBasics.pdf.

###
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit public interest advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2014 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.


Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation

 

Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.

 

To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.