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Who Wants To Be Medical Malpractice Millionaire? The Phony Tort Reform Crisis

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Posted 29 January 2005 - 01:31 AM

Who Wants To Be A Medical Malpractice Millionaire?
The Phony Tort Reform Crisis
By Ted Rall

NEW YORK -- On a recent episode of "Fear Factor," two flat-tummied babes in hot pants and jogging bras agreed to be locked into a glass coffin with 500 panicky tarantulas--"we're adding crickets to keep the tarantulas active," the show's host explained helpfully--as their boyfriends sawed a metal bar to free them. At stake in this ordeal was the chance to proceed to the next of eight elimination rounds, the survivors of which were promised one million dollars. It's amazing what people will do for money.

Still, there are limits. How much money would you require in order to consent to having your leg chopped off? A finger? Would you agree to be blinded for $1 million? $10 million? Would you let yourself be killed? After all, you're going to die anyway.

Wouldn't passing away painlessly, under anesthesia, be worth the price if you believed that your family would become wealthy as a result?

If you're rational, you think these are crazy questions. Good health, a sound body, life itself are all priceless. No amount of money can compensate you for unnecessarily losing a function or body part. And that's what the Bush Administration and its medical industry allies think too. Under their proposed "tort reform" legislation, you'll receive virtually nothing if you're butchered by a careless doctor.

A jury can award two classes of damages to a victim of medical malpractice: economic and punitive. Economic damages compensate a patient for future wages lost as a result of a doctor's mistake; punitive awards account for other victims who may not have sued, They also send a warning to other doctors not to behave negligently. Bush wants to slap a limit on economic damages, but with the average household earning about $40,000 a year, lost wages tend to be relatively low. The current proposal focuses on the punitive component because it comprises the biggest part of large damage awards. Bush wants to limit punitive damages to $250,000.

"This liability system, I'm telling you, is out of control," Bush says. "Because the system is so unpredictable, there is a constant risk of being hit by a massive jury award. It's costly for the doctors, it's costly for small businesses, it's costly for hospitals, it is really costly for patients."

First it's Iraq (news - web sites). Then Social Security (news - web sites). Now more lies to create a phony torts crisis.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (news - web sites) finds that the costs associated with malpractice--buying insurance and paying out damage awards--amounts to less than two percent of America's skyrocketing healthcare expenses. "Even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower healthcare costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small," the CBO determined. That's chump change--a mere five bucks out of the $900 I blow on health insurance each month.

Of course, there's an easy way for a doctor to avoid malpractice suits: do a good job. Do no harm and you probably won't get sued. And the courts are good at throwing out frivolous lawsuits before they become expensive.

Contrary to corporate belief, patients don't undergo surgery in hope of striking it rich as the result of some medical mishap. And victims rarely sue. Those who do are desperate for justice and money to cover the additional medical care necessitated by their doctor's incompetence.

Consider, for example, the case of Yvonne Kimura, a 49-year-old pharmacist from Fresno. Surgeons at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center operated on her to remove a benign tumor in her leg. At one point in the operation they decided to cut a nerve without bothering to call in a specialist to determine whether it was a motor or sensory nerve. Big mistake. She can no longer move or feel her foot. She'll wear a brace the rest of her life. A San Francisco jury awarded her $3.3 million in punitive plus $286,000 in future wage loss and medical expenses. Would you trade places with Ms. Kimura, even for $3.6 million?

Like 26 other states, however, California already caps punitive damages at $250,000. Mr. Kimura collected just $536,000, minus legal fees that may have run as high as one third. To Republicans who believe she got what she deserves: get in touch. I'll gladly smash one of your legs with a sledgehammer for half a million bucks, but I get the TV rights. Operators are standing by.

Let's look at another example of "out of control" malpractice litigation. A Durham, North Carolina woman who suffered a "horror show of medical complications after her wisdom teeth were pulled" set the 2002 state record for a jury award: $5 million. Her oral surgeon's slowness and clumsiness caused her "nerve damage, a bad jaw joint and excruciating pain." She required pain medicine so powerful that it caused her an impacted bowel ailment, requiring the removal of two-thirds of her colon, a large part of her small intestine and her reproductive organs. $5 million can't compensate for the fact that she will never bear children. $500 million wouldn't get close, but George W. Bush thinks $250,000 is more than sufficient.

Or how about this one: On November 9, 1992, Maryland resident Valerie Shea was (correctly) given an emergency Caesarean section at Anne Arundel Medical Center. But after her son Patrick was delivered, he was still suffering from fetal tachycardia, a condition which made his heart race at over 200 beats per minute and turned his skin blue. He was suffocating. Her pediatrician placed an oxygen mask on Patrick and put ice on his cheeks to revive him, but mistakenly waited 56 minutes before sticking a breathing tube down his throat. Finally, 80 minutes after the birth, the doctor took a nurse's suggestion and administered the heart medication adenosine. Patrick lived. But he suffered severe brain injuries during that crucial hour and 20 minutes. With an IQ of 49, he is in special education and requires 24-hour care.

When he was nine years old, Patrick's parents sued the pediatrician and hospital after a nurse who had witnessed the birth finally stepped forward and told them what had happened. A jury handed them $1.4 million for the child's future medical expenses, $3.5 million for his lost earning capacity and $1.5 million for pain and suffering.

"Every day, we worried, what will happen to him when we're gone," Patrick's mom said after the verdict. "Now we don't have to worry." Seems like a fair use of the insurance company's $6.4 million, not to mention my five bucks.

#2 Guest_IDB_*

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Posted 29 January 2005 - 01:38 AM

heh - this came up too - acc looks set to take this path of making your medical records electronic......whats your opinion on this?

Bush Promotes Computerized Medical Records

Thursday January 27, 2005 7:31 AM

AP Photo WHRE201


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush is using the first trip of his new term to highlight what he hopes will be the wave of the future in medicine - computerized records to reduce cost and errors.

Doctors have all manner of new technology to diagnose illness, but they are still likely to write patient records and prescriptions by hand.

``We've got 21st-century medical practices but 19th-century paperwork system,'' Bush said Wednesday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health.

``Most doctors can't write clearly anyway,'' he said, drawing laughter from his supporters and physicians in the audience. ``So there's a better way to enable our health care system to wring out inefficiencies and to protect our patients.''

On Thursday, Bush was visiting the Cleveland Clinic, a hospital that is helping the government develop standards for computerization. It uses the Internet to give patients second opinions online for cancer, heart disease and other conditions and also provides health information aimed at eliminating the time and expense of hospital visits.

Doctors also use computers to order tests and drugs, which has been shown in studies to reduce medical errors and catch patient drug allergies. Nurses use computers to track patients as they go through the hospital.

But for every hospital making advancements like the Cleveland Clinic, there are many that still use the old-fashioned paper methods.

Bush campaigned on the issue last year. He said his goal is for a majority of Americans to have computerized records in 10 years.

Bush appointed Dr. David Brailer to help coordinate the move. Brailer said if Americans' lives can improve by using eBay, there are great benefits to a sort of ``medical Internet'' where they can retrieve their personal health care information.

Brailer said an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people die every year from medical errors and contended that centralized data could help doctors and patients keep better track of treatment. He said while many medical records are computerized, such as lab results, drug data and even accounts of office visits in text files, they are not organized or standardized in a format that can be shared.

Brailer acknowledged great challenges to implementing a system available nationwide. All medical workers will need to have compatible technology, and converting records to such a system can be a costly hassle, especially for individual offices and smaller clinics. Privacy and security must be ensured so that only those with patient consent have access to the records, he said.

Brailer said the government needs to develop incentives to get doctors online. The government has already awarded grants to encourage the transition.

``I think health care is without a doubt the last industry to go through a broad information revolution,'' he said. ``It's a big revolutionary change to doctors.''


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#3 User is offline   mouse 

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Posted 29 January 2005 - 11:23 AM

Hospitals here have been moving to electronic medical notes for atleast the last year. In the last week I used a private hospital for testing and was disturbed to note that my national health number was used to record all investigations.

Noteworthy is that ACC has been collecting national health numbers for years and it is my understanding that in time they will be able to access all medical records without your knowledge.

Thought the Privacy Act priniciple was that no one was to be issued with unique identifiers oh well so much for privacy

#4 User is offline   doppelganger 

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Posted 29 January 2005 - 12:57 PM

there will need a lot of chnge in ACc offices before there is an open report on medical information.

Basicly the ACC staff are not honest enough to be trusted with that information. Just imangine if ACC could get hold of medical records.

you are in court and the judge in reading the file in front of him about you. he asks the ACC repersentive if these are the correct files to this case? the ACC reply would be yes!
the judge would see the claimant in a wheel chair with plaster on every limb. depends on the judges interperation of the facts he would reply to the claimant
"As this file shows that you had a heart attack and died before you were born and therefore you have no cover to any injury" or " I can see from the file that the injuries are not consent with what the claimant injuries arein front of me. I dismiss the case and have the claimant charged with Fraud and misleading the court."

#5 User is offline   hukildaspida 

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 10:53 PM


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