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The High Cost of Practicing Medicine in the Northeast?

Posted by Andrew J. Barovick | Nov 21, 2008 | 0 Comments

There was a fascinating article in Tuesday's BOSTON GLOBE , entitled “ Doctors' Fear of Lawsuits Tied to Added Costs of $1.4 Billion .”  The central thesis was that Massachusetts physicians are so afraid of being sued for medical malpractice that they are practicing “defensive medicine,” that is, ordering extra procedures and tests, and racking up the attendant extra costs, in an effort to prove how careful they are when treating patients.  The physicians hope that adopting this practice will insulate them from medical malpractice suits.

Between this cost, and the burden of greatly increased malpractice insurance premiums, physicians clearly have a legitimate cause for concern about their financial livelihoods.  But the organization that represents their interests in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Medical Society, wants to solve the problem by capping monetary awards to injured patients.  That, it seems to me, is simply dumping the problem on the people who can least afford any further problems–the victims of medical malpractice.

In its study, as reported on by the BOSTON GLOBE , it apparently failed to look in any other direction for solutions to the problem.  That's too bad, because studies in our state (NY) repeatedly show that the bulk of medical errors are committed by the same incompetent physicians.  In a sense, a select few “bad apples” are ruining it for the majority of physicians, who are perfectly competent.  So, the Medical Society might want to take a look at itself, at its membership, and offer programs to re-train, or increase training in particular areas.  It might want to make substance abuse programs more readily available to its members.  In other words, it might look to the source of the medical malpractice, instead of penalizing its victims.

There was also no mention of the role the medical liability insurers may play in the skyrocketing rates that physicians across the country are paying.  Modern consumers of medical care,  and the doctors who provide it, are too sophisticated to believe that the high rates are solely the result of “the medical malpractice crisis.”  Insurance companies, like many other corporations in the U.S., have made plenty of poorly thought out investments with the huge sums of money they have collected from doctors and hospitals over the years, but they can't acknowledge that on the public stage.  It is much more convenient to blame the victims of medical malpractice. 

In New York, Eric Dinallo's Medical Malpractice Liability Insurance Task Force has gone nowhere and done nothing, though it was created to address the costs of medical malpractice.  Recent news watchers predict that Dinallo has one foot out the door , as he may be the next SEC Chairman.  And so the problem remains just that–a problem.

When our state begins to take a serious look into the costs of medical malpractice, perhaps instead of discussing “tort reform,” it can investigate “insurance reform” and “medical reform.”  American patients would be much better off for it.

About the Author

Andrew J. Barovick

Mr. Barovick is a graduate of Columbia College and Cardozo School of Law. He began his legal career at the Queens District Attorney’s Office, where he tried over 20 felonies to verdict, and argued an equal number of appeals before the Appellate Division, Second Department, the New York Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.


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