Globe Letter: “Don’t diminish patients’ right to be compensated”

Chris A. Milne, the president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, had a great letter to the editor in the Boston Globe in Sunday’s paper.

THE BOSTON Globe, in its proposal for “pilot programs that make dispute resolution part of the health delivery system,’’ wrongly diminishes the importance of a patient’s right to be compensated for injury or death from negligent medical care (“Malpractice reform can help build a better health system,’’ Editorial).

Civil medical negligence cases are a compensation system for victims based on fault. Medical providers obtain insurance for that risk. It is the highly profitable insurance companies that fight against patients who seek compensation. This important aspect of our civil justice system has little relevance to the current debate over universal health care coverage.

The cost of medical negligence cases is less than 1 percent of the overall cost of health care. It is not, as the Globe asserts, the “fear of being sued’’ that “fosters costly defensive medicine.’’

Doctors order more tests because it benefits patients. The 98,000 deaths a year that the Globe attributes to medical errors suggest that diminishing a patient’s right to access to information and compensation is not a good idea. Imagine if the response to deaths by drunk driving was to weaken legal penalties?

The debate over civil medical negligence cases and the need to expand those rights because of the large number of deaths due to medical errors is important. However, the need to address ever-rising health care costs and their effect on the viability of universal health care is a separate and important issue.

On the same topic, renowned attorney and author Gerry Spence has some comments on the tort reform debate:

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