As President Obama and Congressional leaders prepare for tomorrow’s health care summit, the American Association for Justice today is reminding lawmakers to remember the 98,000 patients killed every year by preventable medical errors and how restricting their legal rights will not fix America’s broken health care system.
Opponents of reform have repeatedly attacked injured patients and used the malpractice issue to hijack the health care debate. If health care reform makes medicine safer, then fewer patients will need legal recourse – a win for everyone. But it is unconscionable to tell injured patients that they should be left with no recourse if injured through no fault of their own.
Four-year-old Cara Leigh Searcy of Scottsville, VA, was one of the 98,000 patients killed annually by preventable medical errors. Cara needed a kidney removed, and the ureter from that kidney was re-attached to the remaining one. While still at the hospital, Cara began leaking urine into her abdomen from the ureter re-attachment. Her belly swelled with fluid, making it difficult for her to breathe. Electrolytes which should have been excreted in the urine were instead reabsorbed through the abdominal wall, destroying the delicate chemical balances in Cara’s blood. Despite several calls to the surgical team from her nurse, Cara was allowed to deteriorate for approximately 16 hours after her breathing difficulty was first identified. She died from cardiac arrest.
AAJ has fact sheets and video tributes to the lives behind medical negligence at www.98000reasons.org. Here are a few facts to keep in mind before tomorrow’s healthcare summit:
- Preventable medical errors are the sixth largest killer in America, costing billions of dollars every year. The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) study of preventable medical errors estimated as many as 98,000 people die every year from medical errors, costing $29 billion to the healthcare system. Preventing medical errors will mean fewer medical negligence lawsuits, lower health care costs, reduce doctors’ insurance premiums, and protect the health and well-being of patients.
- Medical malpractice is already addressed in the health care bills. Both the House and Senate bills offer grant programs or incentive payments to states that initiate pilot projects focusing on medical negligence and patient safety. Additionally, President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to embark on similar demonstration projects.
- Medical malpractice is a tiny percentage of overall health care costs. The Congressional Budget Office has already concluded that the most anti-patient tort reforms would produce insignificant savings of just one-half of one percent, and may lead to poorer health care and worse patient outcomes.
- Very few injured patients ever file a medical negligence lawsuit. Less than one percent of the whole civil caseload is medical negligence claims. In 2006, researchers at Harvard University found that 97 percent of cases were meritorious, concluding, “Portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”