Interesting letter in Roll Call today by Congressman Jerrold Nadler. In discussing the recent reforms of our health care system, Nadler points out that if we want to reduce the cost of malpractice premiums that physicians pay, we should repeal the McCarran Ferguson Act, which currently provides malpractice insurers an exemption to anti-trust laws. Seems logical: if you want to give physicians more power to reduce the cost of the insurance they buy, don’t let the insurance companies collude on price.
Nadler points out that doctors often decry the cost of malpractice premiums and blame lawsuits as the reason their premiums are so high. But consider this:
First, restricting patients’ rights does nothing to eliminate preventable medical errors. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are seriously injured because of preventable medical errors, and as many as 98,000 die. Beyond the very real toll that medical malpractice takes on the injured and their families, these errors cost the health care system up to $29 billion per year. While it is disputed whether limiting medical lawsuits would actually reduce health care costs, it most certainly would limit the legal options now afforded to patients who suffer as a result of malpractice. To decrease the cost of health care we need to focus more on preventing medical errors instead of restricting the ability of a patient to pursue justice.
Second, claims that “frivolous” lawsuits are threatening the justice system and our medical professionals are simply not supported by the research. A 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the contention that frivolous lawsuits have overrun the judicial system is “overblown.” Instead, research showed that the vast majority of malpractice claims — about 97 percent — involved an actual medical injury and that 80 percent involved a major disability or death. In fact, the study found that nonpayment of claims in cases where an error has occurred represents a much bigger problem for the medical industry.
As Nadler explains:
Finally, it is the insurance companies — not the cost of malpractice awards — that are to blame for the high cost of malpractice premiums. Research shows that malpractice claims have remained stagnant for decades and that the number of lawsuits is significantly smaller than the actual number of people harmed by medical errors.
So what’s the point of all this? While those who would dare bring a malpractice lawsuit are vilified and blamed for the rising cost of health care, the simple fact is that insurance companies have been given a free pass and don’t have to deal with market competition under McCarran-Ferguson. Without competition, there is no reason for these insurers to offer reasonable rates to doctors.
We can all agree that doctors ought not be held hostage by insurance company premiums. But limiting the rights of those injured by medical errors is not the proper way to lower the cost of premiums. Letting the free-market set the price would ease pressures on doctors while keeping the court house door open to victims of medical negligence.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.