June 25, 2009  

Reducing Accountability Is No Way to Lessen Health Care Costs

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

At a time when the nation faces an epidemic of preventable medical errors that kill tens of thousands Americans every year, the last thing Congress should do in the name of health care reform is reduce patient safety. But proposed amendments to the health care legislation under consideration would do just that by reducing liability for medical malpractice. Congress should focus on improving patient safety, not giving negligent doctors and hospitals immunity when they cause severe, permanent injuries or death.

For example, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment that would award state grants for medical injury tribunals and that calls for a “schedule of compensation” for victims of medical negligence. These types of alternative tribunals would shield negligent doctors and hospitals, impose high administrative costs, employ biased decision makers, and require a one-size-fits-all schedule for damages compensation instead of providing compensation commensurate with each patient’s injuries. Moreover, given the epidemic of medical errors in America, Congress should focus on improving patient safety, not giving negligent doctors and hospitals immunity when they cause severe, permanent injuries or death. Reducing medical errors would ultimately cut costs as well.

Reducing accountability for providers also would have the unconscionable effect of shifting the costs of medical errors onto struggling families and the taxpayers at large. More than 60 percent of personal bankruptcy cases are due to medical bills, which shows that patients are already suffering the economic consequences of a broken system that protects private profit at the public’s expense. Negligent doctors and hospitals should bear the cost of their mistakes, not burden injured patients with them.

Congress should reject measures that reduce accountability and focus instead on improving patient safety.

READ a coalition letter sent today to lawmakers. 

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