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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Malpractice costs

No can say with a straight face that malpractice costs are not a contributing factor to the current health care crisis (though sociologist Amitai Etzioni seeks to do so in the Los Angeles Times).

What is less clear is what should be done about it. Medical liability reform, improperly conceived, runs the risk of denying fair compensation to patients who have suffered, and taking away safeguards that ensure scrupulous care.

Etzioni notes the following (as an example of a good malpractice reform). "Louisiana... has malpractice review panels made up of three doctors and an attorney who are responsible for ruling on the merit of claims. Patients who wish to file a suit first have to submit their cases to these panels. If a panel rules that the case is without merit, a plaintiff still may bring his or her suit, but the panel's report can be filed with the court. Thus such a ruling serves as a major deterrent to inappropriate suits."

Expert panels have also been favored by the Kerry/Edwards campaign. But there is at least one problem with using expert panels as an arbitrator: expert panels would do nothing to reduce the high cost of discretionary "pain and suffering" awards. Do we prioritize just compensation for those who have been ill-treated--or do we prioritize lowering health care costs and keeping physicians in business? This is a question society will have to decide.


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