Monday, January 26, 2009

Doctors Bringing Class Actions--$350 Million Reasons Why Doctors Love Lawsuits (No Caps Either...)

Sometimes seemingly unrelated events line up or intersect with one another and serve to prove a larger point. Pharmacists refer to this as a "synergistic effect," like when 2 medications combine to become more potent than if taken individually. The first noteworthy "event" is an American Medical Association (AMA) report of a $350 million class action settlement on behalf of doctors who were shortchanged in reimbursements due to faulty and one sided health insurer reimbursement databases.

There's two ways to look at this issue. The first is the right and fair way. It's true that health insurance companies are unfairly squeezing doctors by ratcheting down their reimbursement rates, as I've noted previously. As such, if these insurance practices are unlawful, doctors have every right to sue to recover the millions they're due. That's what our court system and right to trial by jury is all about.

Now let's look at it from the perspective of how the AMA feels about anyone else accessing the court system and bringing a lawsuit....say, a malpractice suit against a doctor who cuts off the wrong leg, or a hospital that mislabels pathology slides, causing a woman to have her breast mistakenly removed. Fairness and consistency might dictate that if doctors can sue and collect $350 million, an injured woman could collect whatever damages she could prove to a jury--whether it's $500,000 or $1.3 or $3.4 million for the wrongful removal of her breast. Only fair, right? You know, the "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" saying we've all heard...


Enter the second "event" I was referring to. The other day, a Las Vegas jury returned a $2.5 million verdict against a physician who failed to detect colon cancer in a 27 year old woman, who died leaving a 5 year old child.

$350 million versus $2.5 million. So does the AMA believe that families harmed by medical negligence have the same right to bring a lawsuit and have a jury decide what damages are due to the injured patient? No, not really. When it comes to people bringing legitimate lawsuits against physicians or hospitals, the AMA has spent millions and millions on a militaristic lobbying campaign to limit physicians' liability to a meager $250,000 cap on someone's lifetime of misery and pain. And the AMA supports a whole bunch of other "reforms" that make it more difficult for malpractice victims to pursue legitimate claims. And by the way, Nevada has an arbitrary "cap" of $350,000 for victims "pain and suffering," in this case the 5 year old girl who lost her Mom.

Hmmm. Physicians get to sue the pants off of the insurance industry to recover their losses, but when you lose your leg or your mother, now there must be "limits" and "caps" and this is supposedly all good for patient access and care, according to the AMA.

The AMA's "horse pill hypocrisy" on the issue of lawsuits is difficult medicine to swallow if you're on the receiving end of a preventable medical tragedy.

1 comment:

Anthony Turley said...

Brian,
The correct phrasing from the original aphorism is actually, "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." Otherwise, well said, timely, and true.

Thanks for forwarding.