Malpractice Costs All of Us

Medical malpractice is a huge problem in the United States.  Not only does it exact a great personal toll on the patients who are its victims and their families, it exacts a great economic toll on society as a whole.  According to a report prepared by the National Conference of State Legislatures, medical errors are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.  More people die annually from medical errors than die from automobile accidents, breast cancer and AIDS put together.  Each year, between 500,000 and 1.5 million Americans admitted to hospitals are harmed by preventable medical errors.  http://www.ncsl.org/portals/1/documents/health/PATIENTSAFETY-2011.pdf.  These errors result in longer hospital stays, more treatment and missed days from work.  The estimated annual cost of these errors is $19.5 billion.  That’s billion with a “b”.  That is a lot of money.

Who pays that $19.5 billion?  You and I do.  If the patients who are the victims of medical errors are insured, the cost of the extra care they need is spread among all of the policyholders.  If you have health insurance, your rates go up to reflect your share of these expenses.  If the patient is covered by Medicare or Medicaid (AHCCCS in Arizona), the taxpayers are picking up the bill for the extra care.  If the patient is uninsured, the hospitals and doctors raise the fees they charge the rest of us to cover this care for which they won’t be paid.  If people miss work, their employers pay for sick leave and the economy as a whole suffers from their absence.

In my next post, I will discuss what Medicare is doing to try to reduce costs for preventable medical errors:  The so-called Never Events.

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