There’s suddenly been a lot of scary debt-reduction talk about Social Security and Medicare cuts. This is news. As the New York Times notes in an editorial today, “Older Americans, a potent voting bloc, have made clear that they won’t stand for serious changes in Medicare.” What’s not news, however, are the ongoing attacks on Medicaid because, as the paper also notes, “Medicaid … provides health insurance for the most vulnerable, who have far less political clout.”
The Times argues for sensible Medicaid savings, noting “a greater effort could be made to rein in malpractice costs.” We’re gonna take them at their word, that they do actually mean malpractice costs (and not as some states have interpreted this, immunity for unsafe hospitals and incompetent doctors.) The cost of malpractice remains a huge drain on our health care system. Let’s take a look at a few facts:
Medical errors occur in one-third of hospital admissions, as much as ten times more common than previously estimated.
In 2006, medical mistakes contributed to up to 6.1 million injuries and 187,135 deaths in the United States. Lost lives and disabilities caused by medical error cost between $393 billion and $958 billion in 2006, equivalent to 18-45% of total US health-care spending in that year. “For every dollar that was spent in the health care system, about 18 to 45 cents of that dollar went to hurting someone,” explained co-author Pamela Villarreal in an April 7, 2011 briefing.
According to a November 2010 study by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 1 in 7 hospital patients experience a medical error, 44 percent of which are preventable. These errors cost Medicare $4.4 billion a year. Moreover, “These Medicare cost estimates do not include additional costs required for follow-up care after the sample hospitalizations.”
Meanwhile, according to the National Center for State Courts, medical malpractice claims are in steep decline, down 15 percent from 1999 to 2008. The NCSC says rarely does a medical malpractice caseload exceed a few hundred cases in any one state in one year.
Oh, and if people think the answer to any of this is to wipe out the right to trial by jury and substitute an administrative system or “health court” to resolve these cases, take a look at the enormous costs and patient safety disasters in Sweden and New Zealand, which have administrative systems like this. (New CJ&D study here.)
Let’s stay focused people! We need to reduce the epidemic of malpractice in this country, not the legal rights of people who suffer costly preventable errors through no fault of their own.