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Malpractice payouts amount to less than 1% of health care costs

As many Michigan residents are well aware, efforts have been underway in our state and others to limit the rights of those who are harmed by medical malpractice. Many lawmakers tout reforming the medical malpractice system as a way for states to get health care expenses under control, but a new study out of Johns Hopkins suggests that those efforts are misguided.

The researchers have found that medical malpractice payouts of more than $1 million make up less than even 1 percent of the medical expenditures in the U.S.

Medical malpractice payouts of more than $1 million are called catastrophic claims, and these are generally reserved for cases that involve babies or fatalities, or cases in which a patient develops quadriplegia, brain damage or another condition that requires him or her to need lifelong care.

Advocates for placing more limits on medical malpractice compensation say that a lot of catastrophic claims are frivolous, but the Johns Hopkins research suggests the opposite.

The study's leader Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., was quoted by the Claims Journal explaining: “The notion that frivolous claims are routinely resulting in $100 million payouts is not true."

The study found that what is costing the health care system the most is not medical malpractice claims, but rather excessive defensive medicine practiced by doctors who fear medical malpractice claims. The researchers suggest that any legal reform should be focused on reducing defensive medicine instead of implementing medical malpractice caps.

Furthermore, the study's lead author says, there should be more research done to learn how to prevent the types of medical errors that lead to catastrophic injuries and payouts. So, the goal should be to improve patient safety and in doing so reduce the related costs of malpractice claims.

This research is very important as it debunks a major myth about medical malpractice. Medical malpractice claims are not typically frivolous--much to the contrary, they are necessary so that victims of doctor's errors are not unfairly financially burdened as a result of the injuries that they suffered.

Source: Claims Journal, “Catastrophic Malpractice Payouts Add Little to Health Care’s Rising Costs,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, May 2, 2013

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