Medical Malpractice Reform and the Healthcare Debate

As Congress considers repealing the recently enacted national healthcare legislation, a common cry among those looking to undo the legislation is for “lawsuit reform” or “tort reform” which they claim will help keep down the costs of healthcare. Such reform has already been the law in California for more than 30 years and the cost of healthcare in California continues to rise – insurance premiums have increased by as much as 59% in just the last two years in the case of Blue Shield of California!

This is undeniable evidence that “lawsuit reform” and in the case of medical malpractice – caps on damages – bears no relation to insurance premium levels or the cost healthcare. If such caps on recovery actually contained the costs of healthcare, residents of California would not be seeing the outrageous insurance premium increases that have continued over the past 30 years.

Worse yet, damages “caps” only limit compensation for victims, while enforcing no such limitations on profits on the insurance companies who benefit from those caps. Assume a situation where a patient is paralyzed due to grossly substandard medical care. The most that the injured patient can recover for his or her loss of quality of life and lost opportunities (for their entire life) is $250,000. This amount has remained the same in California for over 30 years, and has not increased at all due to inflation or other factors that have reduced the “value” of that capped amount by over two thirds since the cap was put into place in the 1970s. These insurance companies continue to earn record profits at the expense of those injured without fault of their own.

Lawsuit reform, tort reform, damages caps… matter what you call it – it hasn’t kept down the cost of healthcare in California for over 30 years, and there is no reason to believe (or evidence to prove) that it will keep down the cost of healthcare across the nation.

Casey Johnson, Esq.