Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act | Houck | Reynolds, LLC
Houck | Reynolds, LLC

Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act

Earlier last month, United States Representatives Andy Barr of Kentucky and Ami Bera, MD, of California introduced legislation they entitled "Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act." Supporters of this measure have packaged it as a tool to protect patient safety. In fact, the proposed law is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to prevent Georgia residents from using the Georgia court system to seek damages when injured as a result of medical malpractice. The proposed legislation would also allow the medical community to act as the ultimate fox guarding the hen house.

The measure does absolutely nothing to save lives or reduce medical malpractice. If enacted into law, the "Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act" would do the following:

  • Any healthcare provider sued in a Georgia State Court for medical malpractice would automatically be able to move the case out of the Georgia Court system and into the Federal Courts.
  • Medical professional organizations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, would have the authority to establish clinical practice guidelines, which would act as a protective zone for the conduct of their members.
  • The case would have to undergo a mandatory review process by a three physician expert panel, with the injured individual required to pay for half of the cost of that review, to determine whether clinical practice guidelines applied and if violation of those guidelines caused an injury.
  • If the review panel found that the medical provider in question acted within the set clinical guidelines or that the injury at issue was not caused by violation of the guidelines, the case would be dismissed and the injured patient would be required to pay the physician's legal costs.
  • Even if there were no applicable guidelines, if the review panel made a preliminary finding that the physician's conduct did not constitute negligence, the case would be dismissed and the injured patient would be required to pay the physician's legal costs.
  • The legislation does not mandate that the physician be found liable even if the mandatory review panel makes a preliminary finding that the physician's conduct constituted negligence that caused harm.

As to saving costs, the Congressional Research Services, a non-partisan entity that works exclusively for the U.S. Congress to provide policy and legal analysis, has repeatedly noted that federal tort reform, which is what the "Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act" is, would at best reduce healthcare spending in this country by half of 1%. (Medical Malpractice: Overview and Legislation in the 112th Congress, Congressional Research Service). In fact, based on what occurred in Texas after the institution of severe limitations on medical malpractice actions, it is unlikely that even half of 1% would actual be seen. (See Will Tort Reform Bend the Cost Curve? Evidence from Texas, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, June 2012, 173-216).

Estimates from the Journal of Patient Safety indicate that preventable medical mistakes cause between 210,000 and 440,000 patient deaths every year. (A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care, Journal of Patient Safety, September 2013). Based on those numbers, medical mistakes are now the third-leading cause of death in this country. (Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011, National Vital Statistics Report Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Medical mistakes causing serious medical patient harm are 10 to 20 times more common than errors that cause death. Estimates indicate that in 2008, medical errors cost $19.5 billion in additional medical care, increased mortality rates, and missed work, not to mention the cost of errors that do not result in patient death. (The Economics of Health Care Quality and Medical Errors, Journal of Health Care Finance, Fall 2012). The number of injuries and deaths caused by preventable medical errors keeps climbing and will continue to climb until medical providers are held truly accountable for the injuries they cause to Georgians every day.

The bill currently has seven cosponsors in Congress. Unsurprisingly, three of those cosponsors are former physicians. Unfortunately, one of those individuals is Representative Tom Price, MD, of Georgia.

We encourage everyone to contact their Congressperson today and tell them to oppose the "Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act." Our federal representatives should be concerned with protecting patient safety, reducing medical mistakes, and making sure that injured Georgians have access to the courts, not with making sure that physicians are given the power to protect each other when patients are harmed.

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