Michael Townes Watson
NORTH CAROLINA MALPRACTICE VICTIMS STRIPPED OF RIGHT TO JURY TRIAL
North Carolina patients are the latest victims in the propaganda war that the insurance industry continues to wage. Last week, state lawmakers there approved a bill limiting damage recoveries in health care negligence cases. The bill caps damages in negligence cases involving a health care provider at one million dollars for those cases in which the healthcare providers agree to go to binding arbitration. In other words, the insurance industry was able to convince the legislators that victims of medical malpractice would be better off without a jury hearing their case. Few appeals would be allowed for anyone aggrieved by the arbitration process, making the court system a rare luxury, not a right, as envisioned by the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.
North Carolina was one of the states targeted this year by the medical malpractice insurance industry—they considered the political climate favorable for changing the laws there, so they poured millions of dollars into a campaign to convince consumers and their lawmakers that there was a “crisis,” despite all evidence to the contrary. Public Citizen recently published an exhaustive study demonstrating that the claim of a “Medical Malpractice Crisis” in this country is a “HOAX.” The report was based upon actual data from the insurance company reports, and found that malpractice payments have been going down, not up, and that payments in excess of one million dollars are extremely rare.
So, what is the reason that the legislators in North Carolina found it necessary to require malpractice victims to submit to mandatory, binding arbitration? It is because of the success of the propaganda propounded by the insurance industry—the average person on the street believes that juries are bad for society, and that access to the court system is costly for society. Yet, the major cost of the malpractice system (over 50%) results from those few doctors (5%) who are repeatedly found responsible for malpractice. The vast majority of doctors – 82 percent – have never had a medical malpractice payment since the National Databank was created in 1990 to report on the malpractice payments made by physicians. The real crisis is not one of “lottery-style” payments to victims of malpractice. The crisis is one of bad physicians being allowed to continue to inflict harm without any significant oversight.
The medical insurance companies and large healthcare groups are spending millions of dollars annually on their misinformation campaign rather than spending on measures that could dramatically improve patients’ safety, such as electronic medical records. A report from the Washington Post on Friday, July 27, states that many unnecessarily repeated tests, life-threatening care delays and medical errors, result from the lack of a comprehensive system of electronic patient records. This data is not from lawyers or patient advocates, but from the likes of research company Rand Corp. as well as physicians and patients on the ground. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in ten U.S. physicians in 2005 were using systems that included prescription and diagnostic test orders, test results and physician notes, which are vital to a complete health information network. As a result, the United States -- which had a key role in the creation of personal computers, the rise of the consumer Internet, the mapping of the human genome and using technology to cut costs -- lags Denmark, the Netherlands and some other industrialized nations when it comes to moving medical records into the digital age, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare-focused private foundation in New York.
If we are to reverse the trend of malpractice tort reform (now 28 states have limited damages in malpractice cases), we must continue to spread the word that there is no malpractice crisis, that juries are a necessary part of our justice system, and that healthcare quality improvement is the best defense against the soaring cost of medical care.
Michael Townes Watson, author of America’s Tunnel Vision—How Insurance Companies’ Propaganda Is Corrupting Medicine and Law. www.StopMedicalError.com.