As we have previously noted, the leadership in the Federal House of Representatives has now moved to undo the recently-passed federal healthcare reform, and replace it with legislation designed solely to protect doctors and prevent the victims of medical malpractice from fully recovering for the harm they suffer. The American Medical Association has now come out in support of H.R. 5, in a published ad. Our top medical malpractice attorneys join with the American Association for Justice in refuting both the AMA’s claims, and the falsified numbers used to support them.
The AMA’s ad is full of overblown hyperbole – the organization asserts that America’s medical liability system is “broken,” and contains much discussion of “frivolous” lawsuits. Naturally, the AMA asserts that these lawsuits are responsible for rising healthcare costs. As we have previously discussed, such claims are not only unfounded, they are directly contradicted by the actual evidence.
Perhaps that is why the AMA felt the need to invent statistics in support of its claims.
For example, the AMA’s add claims that 64 percent of medical liability claims in 2009 were dropped, withdrawn or dismissed, using this statistic to assert that the majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are “frivolous.”
But this analysis is flawed on many fronts. Most notably, it confuses the term “claim” with an actual lawsuit. A claim includes any demand made to an insurer for benefits under a policy. Thus, the 64 percent of “claims” which were dropped have nothing to do with medical malpractice, but with liability for payment of medical expenses – a very different form of medical liability.
When actual medical malpractice lawsuits are considered, a very different picture emerges. In fact, between 1999 and 2008, medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States dropped by 15 percent, a significant reduction indeed.
Likewise, the AMA’s ad asserts that physician defendants won 88 percent of medical liability claims which went to trial in 2009. Again, the AMA argues that this proves that the vast majority of medical malpractice claims are “frivolous.” That claim is completely unfounded.
In fact, only 3 percent of patents injured by medical negligence file a lawsuit at all. This is in large part because so many instances of medical negligence are completely clear cut, and fall into oft-repeating patterns (infections from improper sanitization when inserting a catheter, for instance). Insurance companies settle the bulk of these claims, which then never reach trial at all. This is not just rhetoric – no less than researchers at Harvard University have found that the refusal to pay well-founded malpractice claims is a far bigger problem than so-called “frivolous” claims.
The AMA’s financial “facts” are no better. In the add, the Association asserts that H.R. 5 is necessary because many doctors pay $150,000 annually to insure against medical malpractice claims. Even were this figure accurate (it is not, and indeed, malpractice premiums have been lower each year since 2006), that has nothing to do with H.R. 5′s proposed draconian caps on damages payable to victims.
You see, as our personal injury attorneys have previously noted, there is already much real data on what happens when damages caps are put in place, as various states – including Illinois – have been experimenting with these caps for years. What has occurred? Damage caps do nothing to lower malpractice insurance premiums. States without damages caps actually have lower insurance premiums, on average.
So why is the AMA so keen to support H.R. 5? Because the bill would limit the liability of its members, pure and simple. With H.R. 5′s nationwide damages cap in place, doctors who commit malpractice, and the companies who insure them, would face substantially reduced liability. This would come at the expense of victims, who would be prevented from recovering for the harm done to them, and the public, who would be serviced by doctors with reduced incentive to work hard to ensure patient safety.
We urge our readers and our representatives to oppose this dangerous and ill-conceived legislation. All our lives could depend upon it.
For a free consultation with a top-rated medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.