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Commentary

Medical Liability Repair
Stuart Weinstein, Washington Times, 4-30-06

Early next week, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on medical malpractice reform legislation, and Weinstein explains here why the vote should be positive.

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on S.22, The Medical Care and Access Protection Act of 2006, which addresses the urgent issue of fixing our broken medical liability system. How that vote turns out will determine whether millions of Americans continue to have access to quality medical care, or if excessive litigation and meritless lawsuits force many of our most highly trained doctors to cut back on "high-risk," lifesaving procedures—or even abandon the practice of medicine.

No reasonable person can say the system we now have is working. Every year, half of all neurosurgeons in the U.S. can expect to be sued. Seventy–six percent of all obstetrician/gynecologists have been sued at least once, 57 percent have been sued twice, and nearly 42 percent have been sued three times or more. About one–third of doctors in my own specialty—orthopaedics—as well as one-third of trauma surgeons, emergency room doctors, and plastic and reconstructive surgeons can expect to be the target of a lawsuit in any given year.

Either we've got the worst medical system in the world, or our legal system is out of whack. The facts suggest the latter, as only 1 percent of claims—1 in every 100—result in a verdict for the plaintiff. Defending against one of these meritless lawsuits is still costly, however—as high as $90,000—and even doctors who have never been sued pay through skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Mega–awards and lottery–style verdicts as high as $100 million are driving many insurers to abandon the market because it has become so unprofitable and have caused the rest to raise premiums so high many doctors can't afford them. As a result, some of our best doctors are retiring early or even changing careers, while others are forced to curtail the riskier aspects of their profession. Unfortunately, it's just these "risky" treatments and services—emergency room care, brain and spinal surgery, cardiac care, helping women through "problem" pregnancies—that just may save our lives some day.



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