No offense to my GOP friends and their one big health care idea - i.e., "tort reform" -- but who wants to walk into a hospital these days knowing that there is no legal accountability for unsafe medical care? Like in Texas, the new Republican "It" state, where medical malpractice lawsuits are now "practically to zero." Why, "[t]here's no downside to tort reform"! writes Bill O'Reilly.
I suppose he means Texas, where you can just about forget ever being able to file a lawsuit if you or your child is injured due to incompetent medical care. It's worse than that, though. Patient safety has taken a huge nose-dive in Texas. The doctors haven't returned, and lots of them are now lining their pockets performing unnecessary tests for reasons having nothing to do with lawsuits because, well, they are nearly gone.
I took a quick survey of the news in the past week to try to diagnose which is the bigger medical malpractice problem - too many "frivolous" lawsuits by patients, or too much malpractice on patients. Couldn't find any articles about frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. Instead, I found this:
Philadelphia Daily News, February 3: "According to a report released last month by the [Pennsylvania] state Department of Health, [Joaquin]Rivera, a musician and Olney High School counselor, died of a heart attack and was unattended for more than 40 minutes. The state report said hospital staff made extensive errors before, during and after Rivera's death. While Rivera sat dead in the waiting room, three vagrants stole his wristwatch."
Los Angeles Times, February 3: "The California Medical Board put a doctor with a flawed disciplinary history in charge of monitoring another troubled doctor who, while under supervision, allegedly mishandled an abortion leading to a patient's death."
New York Daily News, February 3: "The [New York] State Health Department let a Long Island hospital off the hook for abandoning a patient in the OR - even though it found the hospital broke a host of rules."
Cincinnati Enquirer, February 2: "[Ohio's] Christ Hospital has settled a federal whistleblower lawsuit accusing its acclaimed cardiac-care center of running an illegal kickback scheme."
Associated Press, February 1: "[A] Riverside [California] Superior Court jury deliberated for eight hours Friday before finding neurosurgeon Christopher Pham negligent in his treatment of Trent Hughes in November 2003. Hughes was injured while off-roading and was airlifted to the Desert Regional Medical Center where Pham was on call. Hughes, who had a fractured spine, was not seen until the next day and not operated on until two days after his injury. He was left a paraplegic."
Jersey Journal, January 31: "The doctor who caused the death of a patient at the Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus by removing the wrong lung some 10 years ago -- and then tried to cover it up -- is practicing surgery again; this time at Hoboken University Medical Center."
Los Angeles Times, January 28: "State officials have fined 13 California hospitals for medical errors that in some cases killed or seriously injured patients, according to a report made public Wednesday."
Associated Press, January 28: "Attorneys have filed a class-action lawsuit against a Baltimore-area hospital that recently informed more than 350 patients that they may have received unnecessary heart stents."
St. Petersburg Times, January 27: "Donna Delgado just wasn't healing properly after dental surgery. There was too much bleeding, too much pain. Her head hurt. She was dizzy. She had nosebleeds and sinus infections. And with good reason, according to her lawsuit: The surgeon left an inch-long piece of steel in the wound. Lodged in Delgado's right maxillary sinus, the drill bit burr made the 35-year-old woman miserable for nearly a year as she held down a job and cared for her children, her lawyer said."
New York Times Editorial, January 27: "The dark side of radiation therapy in an age when the technology is getting more powerful, complex and medically useful was laid bare in two investigative articles in The Times this week by Walt Bogdanich. The first, published Sunday, described the plight of two patients who died in New York City after receiving extremely high doses of radiation from linear accelerators. ...Wednesday's article described cases in several other states where patients were overradiated because medical teams made mistakes or failed to detect errors."
Then there was the death last week of Martin Harnett, a lovely 14-year-old Chicago boy who suffered severe brain damage at birth due to the doctor's negligence. His mom, Donna, fought for Martin and won a settlement. And then she fought for others. She said that so-called "tort reform" proposals, like capping compensation for people like Martin, "would devastate people already distraught by their losses. People depend on this compensation to restore their quality of life. My son needs this money for basic necessities like special clothes with a flap for the feed tube he has to eat from. We need to protect patients."
Fixing our health care insurance system is no easy job. But this is the wrong time to consider weakening the legal liability and accountability of incompetent or reckless health care provides.