Evidence Grows On Lack Of Merit In GOP Attack On Harmed Patients’ Legal Rights


Publish Date:
April 3, 2017
  • Malone, Patrick A.
DC Medical Malpractice & Patient Safety Blog
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Doctors should hold the prime role in the nation’s medical policy making, Tom Price, the orthopedist who is the Trump Administration’s top health expert, has insisted. But will the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary heed top experts in his field, writing in some of medicine’s leading journals, that he and GOP partisans lack real evidence for their assault on patients’ rights to seek legal redress when injured by medical care?

Experts from the Stanford University’s medical and law schools have just written in The New England Journal of Medicine that “this an odd time for [Price and] Congress to be considering malpractice reform.” Why? As they noted:

Malpractice environments are currently stable: the incidence of paid claims has shrunk by half in the past decade, indemnity-payment levels have declined or plateaued, and many physicians pay less for liability insurance than they did a decade ago. Price has claimed that defensive medicine is responsible for a quarter of U.S. health care spending — about $650 billion — but the best estimates are closer to $50 billion. So is a push for liability reform at this moment inappropriate? We don’t think so.”

Their deep doubt about the GOP’s so-called “tort reform” package— as I’ve written this is a “prong” in partisans’ long-planned push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and to reshape American health care— is echoed in JAMA Medicine. There, researchers further delve into counterfactual exaggerations about what physicians end up paying when sued for medical malpractice and whether this varies by specialty. The experts conclude:

Between 1992 and 2014, the rate of malpractice claims paid on behalf of physicians in the United States declined substantially. Mean compensation amounts and the percentage of paid claims exceeding $1 million increased, with wide differences in rates and characteristics across specialties. A better understanding of the causes of variation among specialties in paid malpractice claims may help reduce both patient injury and physicians’ risk of liability.

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