Tort Reform Results: Higher Insurance Profits, Lower Patient Safety Initiatives & Higher Med Mal Premiums for Doctors

A recent Forbes article written by Steve Cohen entitled, "On Tort Reform, It's Time to Declare Victory and Withdraw", debunks the myths set forth many years ago when the catchy phrased initiative first started. Given the many states that have passed those "reforms", aka insurance company dream goals to make more money, quantitative information is available to actually measure results. Since many of you went along hook line and sinker, let's see what you have done to yourselves. Drum roll please....

  • FALSE: ER doctors had a fear of malpractice lawsuits and thus ordered unnecessary care causing wasteful healthcare spending and costing us all. With tort reform in place, ER doctors have not stopped ordering unnecessary care and raising healthcare costs.  

This Forbes article sites an investigating in The New England Journal of Medicine entitled, "The Effect of Malpractice Reform on Emergency Department Care" which determined:

BACKGROUND

Many believe that fear of malpractice lawsuits drives physicians to order otherwise unnecessary care and that legal reforms could reduce such wasteful spending. Emergency physicians practice in an information-poor, resource-rich environment that may lend itself to costly defensive practice. Three states, Texas (in 2003), Georgia (in 2005), and South Carolina (in 2005), enacted legislation that changed the malpractice standard for emergency care to gross negligence. We investigated whether these substantial reforms changed practice

RESULTS

For eight of the nine state–outcome combinations tested, no policy-attributable reduction in the intensity of care was detected. We found no reduction in the rates of CT or MRI utilization or hospital admission in any of the three reform states and no reduction in charges in Texas or South Carolina.

Mr. Cohen goes on to write that:

This latest study follows numerous others that deflated other tort reform myths: that making it harder for victims to file medical malpractice lawsuits would reduce the number of “frivolous” suits that “clog the courts;” that imposing caps on the damages victims could receive would reign in “out of control” juries that were awarding lottery-size sums to plaintiffs; and that malpractice insurance premiums would fall, thereby reversing a doctor shortage caused by specialists “fleeing the profession.”
 
None of these promised benefits became reality. That’s because the alleged problems were themselves non-existent. 
 
  • FALSE: Medical malpractice premiums will be lower for doctors with reform in place as insurance companies will pass along the savings. HAH! As a lawyer working against insurance companies,we all knew this was a scam but it was still shocking how many people believed it. 

 

While insurance premiums haven’t gone down, their price increases in tort reform states have gone up a little slower than in non-reform states – the lag is between 6% and 13%.  That hasn’t constrained the insurance industry from showing record profits.   Average returns for malpractice carriers hover around 15.6%, far better than the 12.5% for the property/casualty segment. And the malpractice insurers’ loss ratio – the percentage of claims to premiums — is a remarkably low 61.1%.

In 1999 the Institute of Medicine at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences published its seminal study,"To Err is Human",  which concluded that between 44,000 and 98,000 patients are killed (and many more injured) in hospitals each year due to medical errors. That number – which is more than automobile and workplace accidents combined – doesn’t include deaths in doctors’ offices or clinics – such as the one where Joan Rivers recently died.  By 2011, a study in "HealthAffairs"  estimated the number of avoidable deaths was probably closer to one million.

It's unfortunate that so many Americans were duped by the evil insurance companies but there is still hope for change. Remind your legislative representatives that these myths have been debunked and tort reform is never a good idea.

The judicial system is in place for a reason and that is to allow a jury of your peers to hear the facts and evidence presented by our rules and make the most informed decision. 

Trammell & Mills Law Firm, LLC does not handle medical malpractice cases but we know several good law firms in the area that do, if you need assistance. However, we can not stand to see Americans constantly steam rolled by insurance propaganda. Start educating yourselves on the facts, not on the fluff and feel good.