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Proof That Malpractice Victims Aren’t To Blame For Health Care Costs

We have all heard the rhetoric that health care costs are ballooning out of control due, at least in part, to large medical malpractice verdicts. But, a study of med mal payouts exceeding $1 million by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reveals what many medical malpractice lawyers already know: limiting a victim of medical negligence’s right to recover will have little impact on controlling health care costs.

According to the study, about $1.4 billion is paid out annually in medical malpractice cases that resulted in a verdict or settlement of $1 million or more. That’s less than 1 percent of the nation’s annual health care expenditures.

Rather than actual malpractice claims, Dr. Marty Makary, associate professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins, asserts that the real problem is in defensive medicine – the tests that doctors are ordering to avoid being sued. This amounts to about $60 billion in annual health care costs.

The fear of a catastrophic medical malpractice payout – or a claim exceeding $1 million – is the real driver of soaring health care costs. A catastrophic payout is typical of a case that result in death, quadriplegia, brain damage, birth injury or other instance of medical negligence that requires lifelong care for the victim.

Cases that are most likely to involve a $1 million-plus verdict or settlement with a malpractice victim or his/her surviving family involve a missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, a birth injury or a surgical error.

Better instruction of physicians in diagnostic and treatment techniques rather than punishments in the form of verdict caps for malpractice victims are needed to truly reform health care, according to Makary.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Medical Malpractice Payouts Not Driving Up Health Costs: Study,” May 20, 2013

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