Friday, November 27, 2009

Stats show that thousands of people die or are seriously impaired each year as a result of mistakes by doctors and hospitals. Isn't it fair that the victims of these errors, or their surviving family members, should be compensated? Presumably this system of medical malpractice claims not only provides fair compensation to people who have suffered, but it also makes health care providers take more care to avoid these tragic mistakes. On the other hand opponents of this system claim that the system increases health care costs for all of us by causing docs and hospitals to go overboard by ordering excessive and unnecessary tests. I was somewhat shocked while watching a panel on ESPN last night to see Howard Dean, the Democratic party leader, say that the only reason that Democrats oppose tort reform (laws to limit recovery by accident or malpractice victims) is that they are dependent on large political donations by trial lawyers. I am not sure of what the real answer is to this question, but I do know that in Texas, where there are severe limitations on medical malpractice claims, the insurance industry has not seen fit to offer lower premiums for malpractice insurance. I have also seen conflicting claims that studies have shown that the threat of malpractice claims either do, or do not, motivate health care providers to order excessive expensive testing. Which side of this debate is correct, I am not sure, but it is important that more surveys and studies be done to find out which is right. I suspect that an honest evaluation will reveal that the cost of compensating malpractice victims is a minor burden on the overall cost of health care.

Okay, so I don't really think that considering this question is a waste of your time, but I can't be held to be wasting your time all of the time!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I hope that you saw the 60 Minutes program last night (11/21) concerning the billions of dollars that Medicare (that's our tax dollars) is spending on the last month of life for thousands, perhaps millions, of dying elderly patients. In many cases these people are kept on life support in a hospital or nursing home and are subjected to numerous tests and procedures. The result is that they may live an extra month, but with a quality of life that no one would want. When will we wake up to the fact that our health care system is outrageously expensive, is not particularly effective and continues to rise at an unsustainable rate? We simply cannot afford, nor do we need, many of the tests and procedures to which patients, especially the elderly, are routinely subjected. In our service to accident victims at Lowry & Associates we see medical and hospital bills every day, and it never ceases to alarm me when I see the astounding amounts that are being charged. I think that the 60 Minutes program said that Medicare spends an average of $55,000 during the last month of life of Medicare recipients. Of course treatment of the elderly is not the only place where excessive amounts are being spent on patient care, but getting a handle on just that one aspect of health care could result in billions of savings to provide basic health care to people who can't afford it now.