One idea for fixing the access to healthcare/medical insurance issue in this country is to simply enact sweeping tort reform.
The logic is this:
a) You limit the amount of “pain and suffering” damages plaintiffs can receive to a quarter of a million dollars. (Research indicates this is the optimum amount.)
b) This, in turn, trims both malpractice premiums and “defensive medicine” costs and
c) Voila! Problem fixed!
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this approach:
1) Malpractice premiums represent only 2% of the healthcare costs in America.
2) Malpractice premiums are primarily affected by two factors:
a. Number of claims/anticipated claims for a specialty (unlike car insurance, doctors aren’t generally rated for malpractice premiums based on past claims, because past claims are not, statistically, an indicator of future claims).
b. How well the malpractice insurance company did in the stock market the previous year.
3) “Defensive medicine,” that is, the practice of running unnecessary tests and procedures, is not strictly defensive. Doctors are paid by insurance companies and by Medicare/Medicaid for each service, so they make more money if they do more tests.
The thing that’s especially interesting about that is, because every medical procedure is an opportunity for another medical error, running more tests/ performing more procedures actually yields worse outcomes. The Mayo Clinics in Rochester, MN and Jacksonville, FL have some of the lowest Medicare costs in the country and they also have the best outcomes.
As for the $250,000 limit on pain and suffering, I’d like to share this story.
A number of years ago, the pastor of my church went in for a routine laparoscopic procedure on his gall bladder. During the procedure, the surgeon accidentally nicked his aorta. For the next few hours in recovery, he bled and no one noticed, which damaged his internal organs. When he awoke a week later, they told him it was unlikely he’d ever walk again.
He did not sue the hospital, because, he said, Christians don’t sue people over mistakes. They forgive them. (Gotta love someone who can walk the talk.) And the entire church prayed for him, and he put a lot of energy into physical therapy, and he did walk again.
But my thought is this: if he had never recovered, would $25,000 a year for the next ten years been reasonable compensation for a man in his early 40’s who could no longer earn a living?
Tomorrow: McCoffee – The Real Grounds
(Most of the data for this post was drawn from the Robert Wood Johnson synthesis project paper "Understanding Malpractice Insurance: A Primer," which you can find at http://www.rwjf.org/pr/synthesis/reports_and_briefs/pdf/no10_primer.pdf. The rest I found on the Kaiser Family Foundation website (http://www.kff.org/).