Anyone who has worked with a loved one who is regaining strength after a traumatic accident knows how intense the recovery process can be. Medical bills, weekly or daily visits to a physical therapist, and relearning cognitive or physical behaviors – there is a seemingly endless number of stresses. One of the most debilitating stresses can be for families to remain financially stable after an accident.
So what is the small beacon of light in the whole situation? If the accident or injuries were caused by another person, he or she can be held liable. The negligent parties and their insurance companies may be responsible for paying for medical bills, rehabilitative treatment, present and future lost wages, as well as pain and suffering.
New York (along with half a dozen other states) currently has no statutory cap on the amount of damages a patient can collect in a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, President Obama recently voiced support for a new bill, which would set a $250,000 limit on medical malpractice lawsuits.
The suggested bill from the House Republicans limits the damages collectible through pain and suffering. California and Texas are among the states whose caps on damages have been in place the longest. Like their laws, the new bill would limit the recovery available when injuries were caused by “any health care goods or services or any medical product.”
While the corpations and individuals who support the bill argue it can lower the cost of health care, the data from states that have tried it do not support that claim. What does happen is that patient safety gets cast aside because the providers don’t need to worry about being held accountable when they unnecessarily hurt patients. Although it is uncomfortable to ponder instances in which doctors or surgeons make mistakes that cause preventable fatal accidents, it is often those instances that result in the largest recoveries. Studies have repeatedly shown that simple measures by hospitals and doctors can improve the quality of care, lower health care costs and result in better patient outcomes. If we are to have true reform it needs to begin and end with the actions of the providers who have the power to improve the system, not by once again bailing out the health care industry on the backs of those they hurt.
People who are catastrophically injured because of a doctor or hospital’s mistake will likely suffer for the rest of their lives. If the parties responsible for the injuries are not held accountable, or if there is a limit to the repercussions they will face, there is little incentive to prevent other health care professionals from making the same mistakes. If approved, the cap on New York malpractice claims would kill victims’ one beacon of light in the wake of life-altering accidents.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Obama pushes limits to medical malpractice suits,” 28 January 2011