When politicians discuss ways to lower healthcare costs, one common refrain you will hear is that there needs to be "tort reform." Tort reform is simply a nicer way of saying that restrictions should be placed on the amount of money a person can recover in a lawsuit after being hurt by a doctor's negligence or having a family member killed as a result of substandard care provided by a doctor or hospital.
It is all-too-easy to cast blame for rising healthcare costs, and many politicians try to shift that blame to the work of a medical malpractice lawyer in Chicago who simply aims to protect patients and get them the money they deserve. The reality, however, is that medical malpractice costs have been dropping and there is a good chance that families are paying more for their health insurance than doctors are for malpractice coverage.
Frivolous claims are very rare, and neither hospitals nor individual care providers face large numbers of lawsuits. While some states, including Illinois, still continue to have high payouts, the data overall suggests that malpractice isn't really a driver in the cost of healthcare.
Malpractice Claims Aren't the Cause of Rising Health Costs
Recently, the Huffington Post addressed the myth that malpractice claims are responsible for high health bills. The article aimed to refute this common misconception by pointing to data showing that the cost of medical malpractice has been dropping nationally for the past 10 years. According to information on malpractice claims:
- There were almost 17,000 paid medical malpractice claims in 2003. These claims accounted for almost $4.5 billion in damages being paid out to plaintiffs.
- By 2011, there were fewer than 10,000 medical malpractice claims throughout the U.S. The total amount paid out during this year was less than $3.2 billion.
- From 2003 to 2011, there was a 40 percent drop in the number of malpractice claims paid and a 29 percent drop in the total amount of money spent on compensating victims of malpractice.
- In a study of 387 hospitals in 2003, the average the hospitals paid for malpractice costs was just over one percent of total income. By 2011, the amount paid in malpractice costs had dropped to .6 percent of their income. This is 40 percent drop and means that hospitals are paying less than a penny of each dollar to the victims of malpractice.
These national trends make clear that tort reform efforts blaming malpractice for healthcare costs are largely misguided. Of course, some argue that malpractice lawsuits are still to blame because they result in doctors practicing "defensive medicine," or recommending tests and treatments just to stave off being sued. However, it is important to remember that insurance companies won't pay for test unless there is some legitimate medical justification, so when doctors do order a test there is usually a reason and it is usually a good idea for the patient to be checked out.
Of course, the decline in malpractice hasn't happened uniformly across every state in the U.S., and Illinois remains one of the top six states accounting for more than half of all money spent on malpractice suits. In 2010, $520 million in malpractice claims were paid in Illinois, MA and NJ. While Illinois along with five other states together account for 52 percent of paid malpractice claims, this high rate is still likely not indicative of a need for tort reform to prevent frivolous lawsuits but instead can be explained by the fact that top hospitals and a large population mean many people come to Illinois to get care.
Malpractice lawyers in Chicago can help victims of medical negligence. Contact Coplan & Crane at 800-394-6002 for a free case evaluation or visit our Oak Park office.