Springtime: Hope Springs Eternal in the Policy World Too

augustaI love this time of year. In the Springtime, hope springs eternal. Azaleas, dogwoods and rhododendrons take center stage.

The Major League Baseball season is just getting started and everyone still hopes for another world series championship for the Braves. We are all optimistic in the Spring.

In the Springtime, everything is fresh and green and blooming … but there is this feeling of renewal … of hope … of promise.

And, we’re the in the middle of fresh, new election cycle. The Supreme Court added elections as a new Springtime tradition, joining the Opening Day for the Braves, the Masters at Augusta National, and Mother’s Day.

In the policy world, Spring is also a time for renewal. The Springtime is critical for building momentum for a movement … for planting the seeds for significant change. It is in the Springtime that you nurture ideas, gain insight and perspective, understand all you can about an issue.

Creating innovative policy which saves lives and save money but which is also disruptive of the status quo is difficult work. Essential and important work but difficult nonetheless. But, in the Springtime, there is optimism, there is hope and there is renewal of purpose and direction.

In the policy world, the seeds of change must be planted in the Springtime for the idea to grow, flourish, and bloom. And, that is the case with the most disruptive medical tort liability transformation policy in the history of “tort reform.”
Instead of offering up traditional tort reform mechanisms like caps on non-economic ( or pain and suffering) damages, expert witness criteria or limits on attorneys’ fees, the seeds of change for a complete transformation of how we settle complex medical malpractice cases is underway.

You see, the tort system actually perpetuates medical errors. In a medico-legal system where doctors and nurses fear litigation … fear depositions … fear interrogatories … and fear the discovery process, doctors and nurses are encouraged NOT to discuss errors … and because of that, they don’t seek long term solutions which would actually prevent future medical errors. In the “shame and blame” medical tort liability system we currently have, the fear of litigation actually increases medical errors.

When doctors are busy ordering unnecessary tests and procedures, they are not focused on helping the patient get better … they are focused on not getting sued. The fear of litigation drives the practice of defensive medicine. And in turn, defensive medicine drives healthcare costs through the roof.

Any number of recent surveys places the cost of defensive medicine at 26% (physicians) to-34% (hospital executives) of all healthcare costs.

Think that doesn’t matter? Think again. It’s a huge number.

If physicians are right and defensive medicine accounts for 26% of all costs, that translates into $14 billion annually being wasted on unnecessary tests, drugs and procedures.

If physicians are right and defensive medicine accounts for 26% of all costs, that translates into about $100 per month per Georgian (every man, woman and child) or $1,200 per Georgian per year. And, for Georgia taxpayers, we could save $6.9 Billion over ten years in Medicaid and state employee defensive medical costs.

All of this is being driven by the fear of medical malpractice litigation. And, speaking of litigation, how is Georgia’s medical malpractice system working? Well, not all that well.

Most injured patients get no compensation for their injuries. And, we all know that the system does a miserable job of awarding anything to injured patients. Less than 80% of all legitimate medical injuries are ever compensated.

In 2012, over 9 million Georgians paid up to $14 billion annually (in defensive medical costs) so that 16 medical malpractice juries could hear cases that compensated 3 injured patients. Doesn’t sound very effective.

Our current system is complicated, dysfunctional and only works for attorneys and medical malpractice insurers.

We need a system that works for injured patients, for physicians, for healthcare professionals, for employers who are paying for most healthcare, for hospitals, for taxpayers and for the whole system … not just lawyers and insurance companies.

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