Patients Getting the Message

Physician's Money Digest, March31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 6

Wall Street Journal

Several recent polls show that patients are gettingthe message that medical malpractice lawsuitsare out of control and that reform is needed tomake sure that access to care is not threatened. Arecent /Harris Interactive poll, forexample, shows that a majority of the public favorslaws that would limit medical liability and reducethe cost of malpractice insurance. While 58% ofthose surveyed would back such laws, the biggestmajority was among those over age 65, 75% ofwhom say they would approve of liability limits.Another 59% didn't buy the argument that fear ofbeing sued for malpractice improved patient care,and 66% say that suits against doctors are "veryoften" or "somewhat often" groundless.

Only 26% of those surveyed would oppose a$250,000 limit on nonfinancial or so-called "painand suffering" damages, while almost 2 of 3 wouldlike to see malpractice cases tried in special courtspresided over by medical experts.

A Gallup Poll taken just before the president'sState of the Union speech showed similar results.Almost 60% believe that patients file too many lawsuitsagainst doctors, and 74% see the current malpracticesituation as a "crisis" or a "major problem."Almost 75% support limiting awards for pain andsuffering, and 62% support putting a cap on juryawards for physician negligence.

A poll of 800 Democratic Party voters taken by theAmerican Tort Reform Association (www.atra.org)also shows solid support for legal reform, with closeto 70% saying they believe that malpractice suitsthreaten access to health care. Two thirds ofDemocratic voters polled believe that malpracticesuits make trial lawyers richer and do little to improvethe overall quality of care. More than 50% of voterssay they would likely cast their ballot for a candidatewho supported laws that would eliminate frivolouslawsuits and overhaul the malpractice system.