Med Mal Reform Likely To Mean Compromise On Insurers Part
It was no surprise that insurers gave President George W. Bush a standing ovation following his calls in the State of the Union address for medical malpractice reforms. However, the industry should also be aware that a chorus of boos greeted the presidents initiatives from those skeptical of the industrys claims and motives.
Before this debate is over, the boos from patient advocates have a good chance of drowning out the cheers of insurers and the medical community unless insurers can persuasively make the case that it is indeed an out-of-control litigation system, and not their own quirky underwriting and investment cycles, that require reform.
However, even conceding that unsustainable litigation trends are indeed the culprit prompting malpractice premiums to soar and doctors to walk off their jobs in protest, insurers are going to find stiff resistance to one of the major points in all reform proposals–capping non-economic damages. Insurers insist such limits are required to restore some predictability to the system and to contain runaway costs.
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Still, arbitrarily capping non-economic damages inevitably raises issues of fairness and justice, given the physical harm and emotional distress that a physicians mistake or outright incompetence could cause.
The insurance industry is always ready with anecdotes about preposterous jury awards all out of proportion to the relative harm done. Such awards do much to undermine the entire health care system–prompting doctors to avoid or leave riskier specialties, or add to costs by forcing them to practice unnecessarily cautious defensive medicine.