In essence, they said that frivolous lawsuits, particularly medical malpractice claims, were the reason our healthcare costs and doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums were so exorbitantly high.
Physicians, they claimed, were leaving their practices because the premiums for their malpractice coverage were too high, and doctors and hospitals were practicing “defensive medicine,” which jacked up the cost of healthcare.
Now that the dust has settled and tort reform is a reality in America, we have a clear picture for the first time.
What tort reform accomplished was, in effect, to cripple the ability of Americans to seek redress and compensation in court for injuries they sustained at the hands of medical professionals.
The target of tort reformers was to put an end to “frivolous” lawsuits. I must tell you that in my 32 years as a Cleveland medical malpractice attorney, representing families who, at no fault of their own, have become victims of medical malpractice, I have never seen a frivolous lawsuit.
A frivolous lawsuit is defined as an action brought about by one party against another, wherein that prosecuting party knows full well there is absolutely no basis for the claim.
All courts have civil procedures set in place to discipline lawyers who may bring a frivolous law suit. They, if found responsible, must pay the opposing party’s attorney fees and be subject to punitive damages and disciplinary action which could result in suspension from the practice and/or permanent disbarment.
Healthcare Tort Reform
We were told that tort reform would reduce physicians’ insurance premiums. It has not. When was the last time, in the history of mankind, that an insurance company reduced a premium on anything?
The other really big lie was that hospitals and physicians would stop practicing “defensive medicine” and thus exponentially reduce healthcare costs. These savings would then trickle down to the consumer, and our rates would be reduced.
Guess what? The hospitals and physicians continue to order a plethora of unnecessary diagnostic tests and insist upon unnecessary hospitalization stays.
Recently, 60 minutes did an amazing exposé on this issue. The segment, “Hospitals: The Cost of Admission,” explained how Health Management Associates (“HMA”), one of the largest medical chains in the United States, fired emergency room physicians because they refused to admit healthy patients simply to meet an arbitrary minimal hospitalization quota set solely to make money.
Paul Meyer, the former Director of Compliance at HMA and former FBI veteran who specialized in the investigation of Medicare fraud, says that the practices of HMA are clearly illegal.
Meyer said, “They were submitting bills to the government for the admission of patients, and the patients didn’t meet the appropriate prescribed criteria for admission, and for the hospitals to bill Medicare for those admissions, that is false billing. It’s Medicare fraud, simple as that.”
I can’t tell you how many times, in the course of a week, I receive a call from a potential medical malpractice claimant, and I must tell them that because of tort reform they cannot bring an action. Typically, the client says, “I thought tort reform only applied to frivolous lawsuits.”
Boy oh boy, what a great sales job. It’s right up there with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. The American consumer stood idly by while their precious access to a courthouse was taken away.
Over 80 percent of the medical malpractice cases that are tried nationally against doctors and hospitals result in verdicts for the doctors!
The system worked. It didn’t need any fixing. For the legislative branch to tell the judicial branch that a medical malpractice claim has a maximum value of $350,000 is not only unconstitutional, but it is morally reprehensible.
Ohio Tort Reform
Twice in the history of the great state of Ohio, the Supreme Court of Ohio did the right thing and said tort reform was wholly unconstitutional. Tragically, the Ohio Supreme Court in Arbino v. Johnson & Johnson upheld the Republican-backed and insurance lobbyist-sponsored Tort Reform Act.
This was a sad day for the Ohio consumers, but as we all know, the political pendulum swings both ways.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one feels that you have been made a victim by medical error, you need to call me at 1-800-55-MISNY and I can guide you through the treacherous maze that medical malpractice claims have become.