Since Trump’s election, there has been a lot of talk from Republicans about repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and implementing a plan of their own with tort reform. But why tort reform? Well, many GOP leaders, including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and HHS Secretary-designate Tom Price (R-GA) believe there is a medical malpractice crisis in America. According to reports, they claim “trivial lawsuits are pushing malpractice insurance premiums over the limit and driving doctors out of business.” Essentially, their proposals would “shift the burden of proof in malpractice cases from the physician to the patient.”
Price, a proponent of lawsuit abuse reform, even told reporters last June “we waste hundreds of dollars to lawsuit abuse in this country and the practice of defensive medicine. Instead of just putting a Band-Aid on it, we propose a bold and robust solution.” Additional Republican claims are that doctors and hospitals are constantly on the look out for litigation, and often order “excessive tests and treatments,” making health care unaffordable for many in the country.
So what exactly would tort reform look like under Republicans? Well for starters, their solution would include caps on “malpractice damages and compliance with clinical practice guidelines as a defense in malpractice claims.” Price has even mentioned starting state-run tribunals to rule on personal injury claims and do away with “frivolous cases.” As a result, it would be easier for doctors to defend themselves against malpractice cases because more responsibility would fall on patients to prove their doctors were indeed negligent.
There’s just one problem with all of this, though. According to researchers and industry experts, things aren’t as bad as Republicans claim. In fact, things are quite the opposite. The medical malpractice insurance industry in the U.S. is running more smoothly than it has in awhile. Some, like Michael Matray, editor of the trade publication, Medical Liability Monitor, claim “it’s a wonderful time for doctors looking for coverage and it’s never been better for insurers.” Additionally, one of the country’s largest malpractice insurers, Doctors Company, even stated: “doctors are paying less for malpractice insurance than they did in 2001 — without any inflation adjustment.”
Nicholas Pace, a researcher at Rand Corp. that studies the civil justice system, agrees, saying “it’s a time of relative calm and this hasn’t been a front-burner issue or crisis.” According to Pace, Republicans are jumping on what they see as an opportunity to make long-desired changes to Obamacare. However, “you need solid empirical evidence before you move forward on national malpractice reform, not anecdotes or horror stories from a particular county in western New Hampshire. That is not how you decide to overhaul the entire system,” he said recently.
Hopefully, Republicans will slow down a bit and listen to all sides. Even now there are many different proposals and views floating around about what to do about the ACA, even on the Republican side of the aisle. Because of this, many health policy and industry experts are urging Republican leaders to take a cautious approach when considering tort reform, lest they “risk going too far in reducing consumer access to the justice system and fair compensation for medical mistakes.” Fair, considering the fact that medical errors result in an estimated 250,000 deaths each year, making it the third-leading cause of death in America. Any type of reform will only be successful if it’s balanced and fair to all sides, including the patients.