Health Law Changes Hurts Patients’ Rights

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed major legislation repealing many important reforms created by the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.  This new bill, was passed before many legislators had an opportunity to read the text, and before receiving any cost and coverage analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”).  The bill fundamentally alters America’s health insurance system.  The new law will impact approximately one-sixth of the nation’s economy and early projections from the scoring of previous bills estimate that as many as 24 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage.  The law also affects other popular Obamacare regulations such as a ban on insurance companies placing lifetime caps on an insured’s care or denying of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The attorneys at Leopold & Associates find many of these changes unconscionable.  The impact on many residents in our Chicago community could literally be the difference between life and death.  In addition to these concerns, we are also worried about proposals being floated within the new law that will substantially affect patient’s ability to seek justice when doctors or hospitals violate basic safety rules that seriously impact the patient’s life and the lives of their families.  We are concerned about the effect on quality of care, quality of safety measures and the ability for a patient to seek fairness and justice against a medical corporation.  But, as the saying goes, you don’t have to take our word for it.  Recently, the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial from doctors at Stanford University and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital highly critical of these proposed “malpractice reforms.”

The article examines a number of proposed changes and cites statistical evidence demonstrating that many of these proposals will not achieve their theoretical outcome.  For example, the article looks at states that have placed caps on the compensation an injured patient can receive.  While we have posted numerous articles on this blog regarding stories from families who were forced into dire financial straights because they could no longer receive compensation for medical care needed as a result of a doctor or hospital error, the New England Journal of Medicine article looks at the effect of liability caps from the health provider perspective.  They note that one of the key alleged goals of these defensive measures is to improve the quality of patient care.  In practice, however, the doctors analyze that this is not the case.  They state “caps have not been shown to improve the quality of care,” but they do “reduce compensation payments” to injured patients.

The article also looks at proposals to mandate administrative tribunal panels.  These panels require injured patients go before a panel of medical professionals who will rule on the merits of the case before a patient can ever go to a court of law.  The panel ruling is supposedly non-binding.  However, to overcome an adverse ruling, a patient must show by a clear and convincing standard that a hospital’s or doctor’s safety rule violation is “a breathtaking departure from the norm.”  Actually, violating a rule or policy that injures someone would no longer be enough to receive compensation.  The standard would be raised to protect negligent doctors and hospitals and to protect the injured from receiving compensation.

The article surmises a panel “stacks the deck heavily against patients and makes panel determinations virtually unchallengeable.”  The doctors also note that these panels would contradict fundamental rights in our legal system as the panel “would be empowered to render decisions before the usual legal process of information exchange (“discovery”) has occurred – timing that substantially limits patients’ ability to learn what happened and build their case.”  The doctors also raise concerns that by making it harder to raise issues of proper patient care in a court, hospitals lose many incentives that are currently in place to promote safety improvement in their facility.

The article concludes that there is no reason to push for these reforms at the current time.  In fact, the doctors indicate that the Republican furor over medical malpractice lawsuits is simply not in line with the evidence.  They note that in the past decade, the number of paid malpractice claims has been reduced by half and “many physicians pay less for liability insurance than they did a decade ago.”  It appears as though we are at a point where so-called “frivolous claims” are at an all time low.

At Leopold & Associates, we believe in our cases and are passionate about getting justice for those injured by carelessness or mistakes in our medical system.  We thoroughly research and analyze  our cases, speaking with doctors and other medical professionals about a client’s care to make sure that there is agreement that a doctor or hospital violated a rule.  In return, we expect an honest and fair trial that examines exactly what went wrong and the often-devastating result.  While we cannot reverse the error and return a patient to the way they were before the error, we ask for fair compensation to try and level the playing field as best we can.  For more than 40 years of practice, we have seen first-hand how well the system can work.  We believe in the system and hope that with empirical evidence, as shown in this article, our politicians can sort through the hyperbole and reject changes that would undermine fair and equal justice for all.