Capitol of the State of Texas

Capitol of the State of Texas

Saturday, August 4

Limited Medical Liability

A book entitled “Blocking the Courthouse Door” puts a number of political issues in America today into perspective. The opening chapter explains the ideocracy of current attempts at limiting medical liability. Although the opening case takes place in Indiana instead of Texas, the sort of injustices are likely in our great state.

The author speaks of a man, Frank Cornelius, who worked as a lobbyist for the Insurance Institute of Indiana. His most beloved legislation was the limitation of money-injured patients could get from malpractice lawsuits to $500,000 (very similar to the limited liability costs in Texas). Ironically, a few years later, Cornelius underwent knee surgery to alleviate pain he had been experiencing in that particular joint. The surgery actually caused another medical disorder resulting in intense pain and suffering. Basically, over the next 20 years, the surgeries Cornelius encountered as a result of the work of the first doctor totaled more than 5 million. As a result of the legislation he helped to pass, his family was in immense debt even after his death.

This is precisely the reason that limited medical liability in Texas is absurd. The fact that any person can go in for a single procedure (in many case one that is intended to be minor) and come out worse off than they were to begin with is horrifying. What is even scarier is that the doctor and their insurance company would be only minimally liable for their debilitating and life-altering mistake.

Many sources claim that prior to the passing of legislation regarding liability laws in the medical field, there was a significant increase in the quantity of ‘frivolous’ lawsuits that resulted in insurance companies paying out extremely high amounts to cover the costs of faulty surgeries and loss of quality of life. If you think about it though, there were juries in every case that award plaintiffs such amounts of money. These juries spent days or even weeks in a court room hearing from witnesses and seeing evidence from both sides. In the end, they recognized the wrong doing of the physician and the pain and suffering of the patient. Then the current quality of that person’s life. Whether the amount of money being high or low, this is in no way frivolous. I cannot understand the idea that any jury would award a patient high quantities of money without the request being justified.

The reason I chose this topic was that I had to undergo some minor surgery on Friday. As I went in for surgery that morning, this piece of legislation was all I could think about: Limited Medical Liability. What if the doctor messes up- I don’t even know this guy so what would it matter to him!? Even if he does screw up, it is not like he has to pay for anything! His massive oligopy of an insurance company would pay for the little amount that I would get back in the event of malpractice. So should I just endure the pain I was already in to avoid the opportunity of malpractice?

All of these questions should not have to be asked by someone going to the hospital or to a specialist. Instead, you should be able to comfortably put your life in the hands of a doctor and say: fix me, I trust you. In the horrible event that they accidentally hurt you, you should be reimbursed for the life you could have had and the experiences you will know miss out on. Not to mention, you should most definitely be reimbursed for the cost of medical treatment to fix the problem.

3 comments:

KSeago said...

Very good post. Important, well-written, interesting.

Adrianne said...

Initially I was in favor of this limit. Doctors should be protected from unreasonable claims and insurance fees. But I never really thought about the fact that there are always people who look at all the evidence involved and attempt to make the fairest and most educated decision about the claim. I had this vision in my head of ambulance chasers and money grubbing lawyers... of people with unneeded neck braces lying in court, etc etc etc.

But are these people making the right decisions? And what exactly justifies the *right decision*?

I don't want to get into an argument about our entire medical care system (because there are a lot of things absurd about it) but I tend to agree with you on this issue in particular. I would assume that doctors do their job with saving people in mind, and I would hate to think that they wouldn't be worried about hurting someone inadvertently because *no big deal... we don't have to pay more than 500,000 for it*. Doctors spend billions of dollars on malpractice insurance and there's a reason. Human beings deserve a certain quality of life. If the evidence shows that that quality has been decreased by direct fault of the doctor... well then he should have to pay for it...

But who is making these "educated" decisions... Who is deciding who gets money and who doesn't... Its all very scary to me. I'm sorry that people like you had to be afraid to go to the doctor... afraid that something might go wrong... and that they won't be able to take care of themselves for the rest of their lives. Its terrifying. Who should decide... How much does your livelihood cost? And what type of lifestyle do you deserve?

All I'm sure of, is I'm scared, too.

Anemickm said...

My feedback:

One of my fellow bloggers, "The Power Within the Architecture," wrote her last entry on the topic of limited medical liability - the idea that there should be a limit to the amount of money a plaintiff can receive when suing for malpractice. I agree with her that this does seem a little inane given the varied types of injuries and degrees to which a plaintiff may have suffered.

Still, I think the issue goes deeper than that. Since the creation of Medicare the use of insurance companies to help defray the costs of health care has become a widely accepted practice, but before then hospital charges were solely between doctor and patient. Medicare introduced a sort of bartering system to hospitals - the hospital would deliver the charges and then Medicare would tell them how much they were going to pay, which was (and is) typically lower than the hospital's initial asking price. In response to this system the hospitals raised charges in hopes of obtaining sufficient funds to cover their costs. Hospitals and insurance companies are now engaged in an ongoing price war that continues to raise hospital charges every year.

At this point things get tricky: insurance companies and health care providers become like a couple of divorced parents bickering over child support. The patient is powerlessly stuck in the middle, forced to suffer the consequences. It's no wonder that "The Power Within..." was worried by the possibility of malpractice: "What if the doctor messes up - I don't even know this guy so what does it matter to him?!" Inviting a third party into the situation impersonalizes the doctor-patient relationship and inflates costs to an unrealistic level.

Although we know that hospitals undoubtedly charge more than they simply need to cover costs and make an understandable profit, exactly what the real costs are has become unclear to everyone - including the hospitals themselves. According to the article, "Hospital bills spin out of control" on USATODAY.com, one woman tried to get a fair estimate of the cost of her daughter's knee surgery before undergoing treatment and paid the hospital exactly what they asked - $4,200. Later, however, she received another bill asking for an additional $21,000. After she provided a detailed description of the care her daughter had received during her hospital stay the hospital reduced the bill to $610. Nobody could provide an explanation for the initial discrepancy - not even the doctor.

Placing a cap on the amount of liability a plaintiff can receive from a malpractice lawsuit does not help ease the minds of people in need of medical attention, but who can be at ease when nobody knows where their money will come from or even if it will be enough? Neither doctors nor patients.

In the words of "The Power Within..." somehow we need to create a situation where you are "able to comfortably put your life in the hands of a doctor and say: fix me, I trust you."

[USATODAY.com link: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/2004-04-13-rising-hospital-costs_x.htm]