It’s the perennial dividing point and line drawn in the sand by advocates of tort reform who favor caps on medical malpractice damages.
And it’s wrong, says a Johns Hopkins research team that has examined a voluminous amount of data relating to malpractice payments over a number of years.
What tort reform advocates consistently argue is a predominant catalyst in driving up health costs to unsustainable levels is frivolous claim litigation pursued by injured plaintiffs’ attorneys. The argument: Limits are needed to counter emotional juries and unwarranted awards that are so high that they frighten doctors and nearly bankrupt the system.
That simply couldn’t be further from the truth, says the Hopkins team, led by associate professor of surgery and health policy Marty Makary.
What Dr. Makary and his team uncovered through scrutiny of years’ worth of data on so-called “catastrophic awards” (payouts over $1 million) is that such payments comprise substantially less than one percent of medical outlays each year in the United States.
That conclusion materially undercuts the argument for reforms stressing limits on patient payouts. Indeed, diverse critics of that argument from across a wide spectrum say that curbing jury awards actually rewards deficient doctors and increases patient harm.
Makary and fellow researchers say that the main culprit in driving up industry costs is, rather, the array of diagnostic tests and procedures routinely ordered up by doctors. Many of those are flatly unnecessary and, in fact, often lead to false-positive conclusions (i.e., diagnostic errors). That in turn often results in further and unnecessary surgeries and increased patient harm.
Those who truly favor reining in costs, say Makary, will focus on curbing the widespread use of diagnostic tests and not claims that patients are fleecing the system by collecting unwarranted damage awards. That is pure fallacy.
Source: Claims Journal, “Catastrophic malpractice payouts add little to health care’s rising costs,” May 2, 2013