U.S. medical liability system requires reform

January 26, 2011

At a recent hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, chair of the American Medical Association (AMA), cited AMA studies supporting the need for reform in the U.S. medical liability system.

 

Approximately 61% of physicians aged 55 and older have been sued at some point in their careers. Similarly, an average of 95 medical liability claims are filed for every 100 physicians-almost one per physician, according to the study, Medical Liability Claim Frequency: A 2007-2008 Snapshot of Physicians.

At a recent hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, chair of the American Medical Association (AMA), cited AMA studies supporting the need for reform in the U.S. medical liability system.

Hoven noted that 64% of liability claims that closed in 2009 were dropped or dismissed, which she called an indication that the claims lacked merit. However, these claims force physicians to practice defensive medicine. According to a 2003 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, the cost of defensive medicine ranged from $70 to $126 billion per year. For patients who have actually been harmed by medical negligence, large portions of awarded compensations are expended on court costs and attorney fees.

“Defense costs on [dropped claims] averaged over $26,000 per claim and in the aggregate these dropped claims accounted for 35% of total defense costs. Among tried claims, defense costs averaged over $140,000 per claim for defendant victories and over $170,000 for plaintiff victories. Moreover, a 2006 article in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that no error had occurred in 37% of medical liability claims,” Hoven told the committee.

Hoven offered solutions based on liability reforms from states such as California and Texas. These reforms include awarding injured patients unlimited economic damages; awarding injured patients noneconomic damages up to $250,000; placing caps on noneconomic damages; establishing reasonable statue of limitations; and establishing a sliding-scale for attorney contingent fees.

Read Hoven’s testimony before the committee at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/399/ama-statement-medical-liability-reform-2011.pdf