Let's focus on medical errors

November 7, 2009

Debra Smith’s column in your Oct. 19 [Focus section] needs some clarification and correction. She addresses potential medical-malpractice reform and argues vigorously for a “peer-review” screening of medical-malpractice cases before they go to court.

What you failed to point out is that Indiana has had such a screening mechanism in place for 30 years. In Indiana, medical-malpractice cases are reviewed by a medical review panel consisting of three doctors before they are filed in court.

She then argues for a cap on economic and punitive damages on the grounds it will reduce the cost of health care. The data do not support her position. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the proposed cap would reduce the cost of medical liability insurance by about 10 percent. Since liability insurance premiums make up about 2 percent of the cost of health care, the savings would be about 0.2 percent. Your $100 medical bill would be reduced by 20 cents—not quite enough to buy a cup of coffee.

The real issue should be patient safety. There is a silent epidemic in this country. Over 100,000 people a year die of preventable medical mistakes. Twice as many people die of medical negligence as die in automobile accidents. The economic loss from those errors dwarfs any savings from caps. The focus in any health care reform should be on preventing the mistakes that cause those deaths.


John Muller 

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