By Congressman Phil Gingrey, M.D. (GA-11)
It is estimated that one in every ten dollars spent within the health care system will be used on defensive medicine and frivolous lawsuits this year. This is due in part to investors and hedge funds seizing on medical liability lawsuits in order to reap the rewards that should be going directly to injured patients. The New York Times recently reported that nearly $1 billion will be spent this year on these meritless suits, resulting in the exploitation of countless patients by lawyers and their investors looking for economic gains. The health care system, already too costly and laden with waste, now includes a medical liability system functioning as a vehicle towards profit instead of acting on behalf of the patients’ best interests.
This broken system has put the doctor-patient relationship in jeopardy because it has become less about the patient receiving justice and more about a ripe niche for exploitation by trial lawyers and hedge funds. Instead of pursuing remedies for those injured, the courts are now being clogged up with frivolous lawsuits which do not seek to benefit the patient, but rather seek to benefit third and fourth party bottom lines. This puts the care doctors aim to provide and the justice courts aim to ensure at risk. The rising prevalence of outside investment is a clear indicator of the need for medical malpractice liability reform.
The need for this kind of reform – although typically thought of as a Republican driven initiative – has recently been acknowledged by both parties as a smart option. Notably, President Obama himself echoed this sentiment during his annual State of the Union Address. The President said that in order to bring down health care costs, we need to look at different ideas, like medical malpractice reform. In fact, bipartisan support for this initiative can be traced back thirty years to when California’s then Governor, Jerry Brown, addressed this very issue by implementing a reform package that significantly improved patient safety, reduced costs, and promoted a higher standard and more accessibility to care by making the state a more desirable environment for doctors.
I recently introduced the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 so that we might bring these kinds of successes seen in California to patients across the nation. I sponsored this bipartisan bill, along with House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. David Scott (D-GA), to improve access to health care for millions of Americans. This initiative would ensure full economic and medical compensation for patients, while advancing the idea that patients should receive their fair share of awards. This legislation will subdue the threat posed by investors and hedge funds that are currently seeking to make a profit from the injuries of patients.
These reforms will not only improve outcomes for patients, but will also save billions currently lost to frivolous lawsuits and the practice of defensive medicine. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, these lawsuits-turned-investments are costing anywhere between $70 and $126 billion per year. With the failure to act resulting in high liability insurance rates for medical providers and thus, high cost of care for patients, the lack of meaningful medical liability reform ultimately puts a severe strain on the ability to provide and receive care. Estimates show that reforms like those contained in the HEALTH Act have the potential to reduce the cost of health care by as much as $200 billion annually. Eliminating much of this wasteful cost will save Americans billions, while improving the overall quality of care for patients.
It is clear that we cannot afford to continue down this broken path. The unintended injuries suffered by Americans should not be a commodity for investment by lawyers and Wall Street firms. There is too much money being wasted on frivolous lawsuits and the practice of defensive medicine. In order to put a stop to this practice and turn our focus back to patients, we need to give them the protection they deserve by implementing the HEALTH Act. This is a proven, bipartisan way to reform medical malpractice liability and restore the safety of all those who receive care. We hope that our colleagues in Congress will join us – and the President will put his words into action – by supporting the HEALTH Act.
Congressman Phil Gingrey, M.D., was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Georgia and practiced for 26 years as an OB/GYN.