WHEELING – In a recently published fact sheet, the Center for Justice and Democracy announced that the findings from three new studies make it indisputable that damage caps – a popular part of tort reform – actually are hurting healthcare.
This decline in healthcare was observed in three distinct areas.
First, the reports found that there were actually more medical errors in jurisdictions that had enacted damage caps. This is troubling but, frankly, not very surprising.
Without full legal consequences for medical errors, there was a corresponding increase in the "rates of preventable adverse patient safety events."
In other words, the presence of caps meant that more patients were becoming victims of malpractice.
Second, healthcare costs increased. The big selling point for caps, especially in West Virginia, was that they would help curb increasing costs for patient care.
Indeed, when it came to Medicare Part B spending (i.e., physician spending) there was actually a 4-5 percent increase. As one report concluded: "There is no evidence that limiting med mal lawsuits will bend the healthcare cost curve, except perhaps in the wrong direction."
Finally, the reports found no overall increase in the number of physicians. When our Legislature was considering tort reform, physicians claimed that exposure to med mal judgments was forcing physicians to leave the state.
The findings of these reports completely undercut those claims. There was simply no correlation between the presence of damage caps and physician supply.
The people of West Virginia deserve better.
Armed with money and good PR, healthcare professionals convinced the Legislature that tort reform was necessary to fix the healthcare system.
Time has proven that they were wrong. If anything, these efforts at "reforming" healthcare have only made things worse – and, no doubt, will continue to do the same in the future.
The Legislature should give these new reports careful attention at its interim committee meetings this fall and at its upcoming session in January.
Not only should damage caps be repealed, the Legislature should rethink all of the tort reform measures it has enacted.
Tort reform was, and is, a bad idea. It's a shame it's taken this long for the truth to come out.
Stoneking is an attorney with Bordas & Bordas.