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New York Times Says No to Governor Cuomo's Malpractice Proposals

I am reprinting an editorial from Saturday' s New York Times explaining their opposition to New York Governor Cuomo's ill advised medical malpractice proposals.  The proposal will serioiusly affect victims of malpractice, especiallly those who sustain neurological injuries and brain damage as a result of careless medical conduct.

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL

Medicaid and the N.Y. Budget: A Bad Deal on Malpractice

When Governor Cuomo and his aides started looking for ways to reduce Medicaid costs, capping malpractice payments was not on their radar. Hospital leaders on the Medicaid Redesign Team pushed the idea hard, justifying it with data supplied by the hospital industry.

The governor has decided to go along, either because he suddenly believes in it or, as we suspect, it’s a price he is willing to pay to get an agreement on Medicaid spending. Whatever the reason, it is the wrong way to go. It will unfairly punish patients badly injured by medical negligence.

Hospitals have long complained that they are forced to pay too much in compensation to injured patients. And doctors complain that high malpractice awards drive up their insurance premiums and that they are forced to practice “defensive medicine,” ordering unnecessary tests and procedures to protect themselves from possible lawsuits.

The malpractice system is undeniably flawed. But there are better and fairer ways to reform the system and save money than a one-size-fits-all cap.

The proposed cap would apply to “non-economic damages.” Patients could still sue for the cost of their medical care, the value of wages lost and other economic costs. But their ability to recover damages for pain and suffering would be limited to $250,000 from every provider found guilty of malpractice. That hardly seems enough for patients who might face a greatly diminished quality of life because a negligent hospital or doctor left them blinded, paraplegic, brain damaged or gravely disfigured for life.

We have long endorsed reform of the malpractice system, which all too often rewards patients whose injuries were not a result of malpractice while failing to deal with cases of real malpractice. Possible solutions might include requiring an expert judgment on the merits of a case before it proceeds to court, guidelines to help judges and juries determine reasonable compensation, special health courts with highly trained judges to sift through the evidence and added protection for doctors who follow best-practice guidelines.

The best solution is to greatly reduce the errors and bad outcomes that can lead to malpractice suits.

Doctors in the obstetrical department at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center have just reported a huge reduction in compensation payments for patients alleging malpractice after they instituted a rigorous safety program in 2003. The program included such elements as extensive staff training, emergency drills, electronic record-keeping to document every step taken, and standard protocols for dealing with tough cases.

As a result, yearly compensation payments and the hospital’s legal expenses to defend itself fell by more than 90 percent — from an annual average of $27.59 million between 2003 and 2006 to $2.55 million annually between 2007 and 2009. Costs fell to $250,000 in 2009, an astonishing 99 percent reduction from the early years.

A malpractice cap should not be part of the budget. The public deserves to hear a much fuller debate about malpractice reform. One that includes legal experts and patients’ advocates — not just the hospital leaders who used their insider status to push through this long-sought and self-serving goal.

 

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