John James, PhD, became involved in the movement to bring greater attention to patient safety and rampant medical errors by way of tragedy. In 2002, Dr. James lost his 19-year-old son as a result of problematic care provided by cardiologists at a hospital in central Texas. A toxicologist by training, Dr. James taught himself cardiology in order to piece together the events that led to the death of his son despite an extensive evaluation by a team of cardiologists. His journey is chronicled in his book, “A Sea of Broken Hearts: Patient Rights in a Dangerous, Profit-Driven Health Care System.” From there, Dr. James became an advocate for patient safety and a crusader against medical errors. His website is called Patient Safety America.
Major media outlets around the globe extensively covered the recent British Medical Journal article showing that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US. In 2013, Dr. James published a related paper in the Journal of Patient Safety that showed how nearly 440,000 lives per year are lost to medical errors in the American healthcare system.
I wanted to provide Bill of Health readers with a summary of how Dr. James’s paper in many ways pre-saged and perhaps even exceeds the recent BMJ article. A KevinMD article provides further context in this debate.
Medical malpractice in Pennsylvania revolves around the MCARE statute. MCARE stands for “Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error” — an Act passed and signed into law in 2002.
MCARE requires that participating providers and hospitals carry a minimum of $500k in coverage per occurrence or claim. (We will get back to what exactly counts as an “occurrence.”) MCARE also refers to a special fund within the State Treasury that aims to “ensure reasonable compensation for persons injured due to medical negligence.” The MCARE fund pays claims in excess of the $500k in coverage that participating health care providers and hospitals are already required to buy themselves to insure against medical professional liability actions.
How does an injured patient get compensated? Here’s how it works: first, a provider has to tender their $500k. Only after they tender does the MCARE fund offer excess coverage. The excess coverage offered is an additional $500k. So if you sue a provider and a hospital, each self-insured with $500k, you can recover $1 million from the self-insurance, and on top of that, once both the provider and hospital tender, the MCARE fund can layer on an additional $500k for the provider and an additional $500k for the hospital. $500k from the provider + $500k from MCARE for the provider + $500k from the hospital + $500k from MCARE for the hospital = $2 million recovery. Simple enough, right?
What will happen to the current medical malpractice system under a single-payer system?
To answer this question, I started by looking at the information provided by Physicians for a National Health Program, whose mission is to replace the ACA (Affordable Care Act) with single-payer. On their website under Single-Payer FAQs, it says:
What will happen to malpractice costs under national health insurance?
They will fall dramatically, for several reasons. First, about one-fourth of all malpractice awards go to pay present and future medical costs (e.g. for infants born with serious disabilities). Single payer national health insurance will eliminate the need for these awards. Second, many claims arise from a lack of communication between doctor and patient (e.g. in the Emergency Department). Miscommunication/mistakes are heightened under the present system because physicians don’t have continuity with their patients (to know their prior medical history, establish therapeutic trust, etc) and patients aren’t allowed to choose and keep the doctors and other caregivers they know and trust (due to insurance arrangements). Single payer improves quality in many ways, but in particular by facilitating long-term, continuous relationships with caregivers. For details on how single payer can improve the quality of health care, see “A Better Quality Alternative: Single Payer National Health Insurance.” For these and other reasons, malpractice costs in three nations with single payer are much lower than in the United States, and we would expect them to fall dramatically here. For details, see “Medical Liability in Three Single-Payer Countries” paper by Clara Felice and Litsa Lambkros.
Let me address the most salient part of the above argument, which states that the significant burden of malpractice recoveries composed of future medical costs will be alleviated because all individuals will be insured. Read More
The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to welcome our new 2016-2017 Student Fellows. In the coming year, each fellow will pursue independent scholarly projects related to health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics under the mentorship of Center faculty and fellows. They will also be regular contributors here at Bill of Health on issues related to their research.
Seán Finan is an LLM candidate from Ireland at the Harvard Law School. He recently graduated from the LLB programme at Trinity College, Dublin, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Trinity College Law Review. His research interests include the ethical implications of emerging biotechnologies. For his Fellowship project, he intends to investigate the use of morality tests on patent applications as a means of indirect regulation of research.
Wendy Salkin is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. Her primary research is in political philosophy, moral philosophy, social philosophy, and philosophy of law. She also works on questions in feminist philosophy and bioethics. She is writing a dissertation on informal political representation under the supervision of Tommie Shelby, T.M. Scanlon, Richard Moran, and Eric Beerbohm. She holds a J.D. from Stanford Law School and a B.A. in Philosophy and Africana Studies from New York University. For her Fellowship project, she will examine new directions in the debate over lifespan extension.
Brad Segal is currently a medical student at Harvard Medical School where he is enrolled in a dual MD/Master of Bioethics degree program. Brad received his BA and BS from UC San Diego where he double majored in Philosophy and Physiology/Neuroscience. In his first year at HMS Brad’s paper on the ethics of organ transplantation was awarded the Henry K. Beecher Prize in Medical Ethics. He has also studied the ethical implications of our evolving understanding of the brain, and has published on whether and when individual genetics and neurobiology should mitigate a criminal defendant’s moral culpability. During his Fellowship he will be studying what ‘harm’ means in the medical context.
Shailin Thomas is a second year law student in a joint MD/JD program between Harvard Law School and the New York University School of Medicine. He received a B.S. from Yale University, where he studied cognitive neuroscience — exploring the anatomy and physiology behind social phenomena. His interests lie at the intersection of clinical medicine and the legal forces that shape it. Prior to law school, Shailin worked on both the administrative and clinical sides of health care, and as a research associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He is currently an affiliate of the Berkman Center and Outreach Editor for the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology. A fervent proponent of privacy and freedom of expression, Shailin has also served on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. For his Fellowship project, he will focus on a tort solution for faulty eyewitness testimony procedures.