Medical Malpractice is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
Preventable medical errors kill and seriously injure hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Any discussion of medical wrongdoing that does not involve preventable medical errors ignores this fundamental problem.
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) preventable medical errors kill as many as 98,000 people every year at a cost of $29 billion. If the Centers for Disease Control classified medical errors as a category it would be the sixth leading cause of death, killing more people annually than auto accidents or guns.
And while some interested parties would prefer to focus on doctors’ insurance premiums, health care costs, or alternative compensation systems – anything other than the wrongdoing itself – reducing medical errors is the best way to address all the related problems. Preventing medical errors – not taking away injured patients’ rights – will lower health care costs, reduce doctors’ insurance premiums, and protect the health and well-being of patients.
Fabricated stories of a “lawsuit crisis” and doctors fleeing
During the last so-called “crisis” the state’s largest medical malpractice insurer, ISMIE (Illinois State Medical Insurance Exchange) spent millions of dollars on a PR campaign to trick Illinoisans into believing there was an explosion of medical malpractice lawsuits in our state and, because of this, doctors were fleeing our state to practice medicine elsewhere. Unfortunately the numbers do not back up their claims.
There never was a “lawsuit crisis” in Illinois. Opponents of civil justice claim that enacting caps in Illinois will reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed. Leading up to 2005 (the last time Illinois enacted a law limiting damage awards) the number of medical malpractice lawsuits was already dropping. In three separate cases since Illinois adopted its Constitution in 1970, the Supreme Court has ruled such caps unconstitutional.
Despite ISMIE’s claims that doctors were leaving Illinois, the number of physicians licensed and engaged in “patient care” in Illinois has never declined (click here for a chart showing the number of doctors in Illinois). In 2005, when the latest damage cap went into effect, the myth of doctors fleeing abruptly stopped. Rather odd considering there was no immediate drop in the high malpractice insurance rates – which, supposedly, was the very reason doctors were leaving.
ISMIE concocted this story so that they could continue to rake in record profits at the expense of the rights of the citizens of Illinois. Despite their claims, their own data shows payouts have remained flat, while premiums and profits skyrocket (click here for a chart showing premiums written and claims paid). While seeking the damages cap before the General Assembly in 2005, ISMIE promised lower rates for doctors when and if a cap was passed. The caps became law and yet ISMIE held their rates “steady” for doctors in our state in the years immediately following the enactment of the caps law.
Three strikes and You’re Out
The same cries of a medical malpractice “crisis” were heard in 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2005. In response to each tale of “crisis” Illinois adopted new laws restricting patients’ rights and each time the Illinois Supreme Court held those laws unconstitutional. Limiting patients’ rights by enacting caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases has been ruled unconstitutional in Illinois on three separate occasions, most recently in 2010.
Illinois Needs Insurance Reform
For years the insurance industry has tried to convince the public that patients who are victims of medical errors are responsible for increased health care costs, even though Illinois’ largest malpractice insurer has reported that payouts have remained flat for more than a decade. Rather than discussing what can be done to spur competition in the insurance industry and hold costs steady, the insurance companies wanted to convince the public that the victims of wrongdoing were to blame for rising costs and limited access to quality care.
Health care in Illinois will only improve when insurance companies are held accountable. The long-suppressed insurance reforms that were contained in the 2005 legislation, which has since been struck down, were working. The change resulted in a forced reduction of malpractice premiums. It addressed the issues of abuses in the insurance industry, which were a major factor in leading to higher insurance rates for doctors. The law forced malpractice insurance companies to provide greater transparency on rate-setting and payouts that in turn spurred competition, motivated more companies to enter the marketplace, and lowered premiums for doctors.