Keep Our Families Safe

Who Will Help Malpractice Victims?

Surgeons removed both of Linda’s McDougals breasts because she was told she had breast cancer. That turned out not to be true. 
 
McDougal, a 46-year-old mother of three, went in for a mammogram – a routine breast cancer screening procedure. But a hospital pathologist switched McDougal’s test results with those of an actual cancer patient. That mix-up led to her double mastectomy just three weeks later.
 
McDougal’s story is horrifying. Sadly, it is not an isolated case. Medical errors kill up to 98,000 patients each year and injure many more. 
 
That is why McDougal has decided that now is time to speak out on behalf of injured patients. In particular, McDougal has expressed disappointment with President Bush’s endorsement of an insurance industry plan to impose a one-size-fits-all limit on the amount of compensation victims of malpractice can receive when they seek to hold those who harmed them accountable in court.
 
“President Bush wants to put through rather rapidly a cap on medical malpractice [compensation]. His intent is to harm me. It’s not to make doctors accountable for their actions. Don’t penalize the patients. Don’t penalize the victims,” she said to the national media.
 
Critics of the President’s plan believe that instead of supporting patients, President Bush has made it clear he supports the insurance industry, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, has been trying to make up for the financial woes it has experienced since the late 1990s by charging doctors more money for malpractice insurance coverage.
 
President Bush and the insurance industry want to cap so-called non-economic damages for injuries such as loss of fertility, loss of eyesight, and loss of a child’s life at $250,000. That cap means the insurance industry would get a break when the doctors it insures are medically negligent, say groups like Americans for Insurance Reform, a coalition of more than 100 consumer and public interest groups, which recently issued a study that proves that bad business practices of the insurance industry – not America’s legal system – are the cause of high medical malpractice premiums.
 
The latest study, Stable Losses/Unstable Rates in Pennsylvania, focuses on Pennsylvania, but its result mimic those of the insurance reform group’s nationwide malpractice insurance study. The Pennsylvania study shows that the insurance crisis is the result of “mismanaged underwriting practices of the insurance industry.”
 
When the economy is strong and the insurance industry’s investments are gaining, the study found, medical malpractice rates have decreased. When the economy is weak, as it has been since the second half of 2000, the insurance industry’s investment loses precipitate sudden medical insurance rate increases.
 
The author of the study and Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, J. Robert Hunter said, “These data together constitute a ‘smoking gun,’ which should, once and for all end the debate about the cause of the current medical malpractice crisis for Pennsylvania doctors.”
 
Hunter said the way to solve the insurance problem is to reform the business and accounting practices of the insurance industry.
 
In the meantime, McDougal asked, “People are dying. Are their lives worth only $250,000?”