When President Obama addressed the American Medical Association last week, he hoped to enlist the support of the medical profession for the Administration’s health care reform policies. Telling doctors he would work with them to limit their vulnerability to malpractice lawsuits, he drew applause. When he added that he rejected placing caps on malpractice awards, he was greeted by boos.
Many believe that putting limits on financial rewards deprives grievously harmed patients of substantial compensation. Others note that juries are often swayed to award outrageous damages based more on the severity of patient injuries rather than on clear evidence of negligence. Because malpractice cases often take years to come to trial, an obvious advantage over settling these cases in the courtroom would be the setting up tribunals of neutral experts, even requiring compulsory arbitration in cases of claimed negligence.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that though putting caps on damages would ultimately reduce malpractice premiums, it would reduce health spending by only 0.5 %. In my opinion, this figure could be a significant underestimate. It is virtually impossible to estimate the true savings by replacing our present system of litigation.Over 50% of malpractice cases are dismissed because of failure to prove physician negligence-most of these cases are frivolous or simply misguided. Plaintiffs won only 27% of medical malpractice cases in 75 of the largest counties in the US. in 2001. Yet over 54 cents out of every dollar paid in compensation as a result of medical malpractice suits goes for legal and administrative costs. At the same time, an unknown number of victims of malpractice never sue.
I estimate up to $100 billion could be saved physicians and the health care system via the elimination of “defensive medicine” alone which drives unnecessary testing and treatment to an unimaginable degree. To achieve these savings, drastic changes in the malpractice statutes would be required-i.e., filtering out , settling, or mediating of cases by compulsory arbitration in 95% of cases,changes requiring significant tort reform. It is indeed interesting to compare malpractice statistics in Canada with a population of 34 million (1050 cases of malpractice in 2001), with those of the U.S., population, 306 million (20,000 Payments-estimated number of cases-74,000).
Are we indeed the “land of litigation” as some people claim, or are there remedies for a flawed system of dealing with medical malpractice?