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Jul 30

Fear of Medical Litigation Continues to Drive Up Costs

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by Wayne W. Oliver

Originally published in the Ft. Myers (Florida) News Press  on July 16, 2015

Health care continues to be at the center of debate in Florida’s capital. But while many focus on the number of Floridians covered by some form of health insurance, equal attention should be paid to the factors driving the costs of delivering health care.

These costs affect everyone: the insured, the uninsured, employers and the state. If costs are reduced, by definition health care becomes more accessible to all Floridians. We must look at spending on the front end and develop an effective mechanism to contain costs while considering any state options for extending coverage to more people.

Currently in Florida, the fear of medical litigation among physicians has manifested itself in the form of the practice of defensive medicine. By definition, defensive medicine is the practice of ordering unnecessary medical tests, procedures, medications and consultations with little clinical or therapeutic value but may help physicians protect themselves against malpractice litigation. In Florida alone, the practice of defensive medicine costs all Floridians more than $40 billion per year. The billions of dollars Florida loses each year due to unnecessary health care expenses is a hidden driver in the cost of health care, and, according to the Gallup Organization, accounts for as much as 26 percent of overall health care spending.

The current dysfunctional and inefficient medical malpractice system is therefore imposing an avoidable and onerous burden on a wide swath of Florida’s economy, impacting Florida’s physicians, patients and businesses. A proposal called the Patients’ Compensation System is intended to transform the broken medical malpractice system in Florida and preserve the physician-patient relationship.

In essence, the proposal would remove medical malpractice from the inefficient court system and place it in a streamlined administrative system. Rather than flooding the courts with lawsuits that take years to resolve, the administrative model allows for a less contentious, fair and timely determination of any compensation that should be paid to an injured patient. During a House Health and Human Services Committee meeting, chairman Jason Broduer, R-Sanford, revealed an improved version of the proposal. Brodeur identified the legislation as a priority of his committee for the 2016 legislative session and a part of the solution to address the issue of escalating health care costs.

The newly designed Patients’ Compensation System responds to the valuable feedback from Florida’s physicians and other stakeholders, with three key fundamental changes. The new proposal:

•  Applies exclusively to physicians, as physicians are uniquely forced to practice defensive medicine in order to protect themselves.

•  Significantly decreases the cost of medical malpractice coverage because physicians will no longer need to purchase professional liability insurance. Under the new proposal, an administrative fee will be determined based on the specialty practice of Florida physicians — with the fee being significantly lower than current medical malpractice rates.

•  Will not increase reporting to the National Practitioner Database and Boards of Medicine.

Affordability extends to everyone across the healthcare spectrum — whether utilizing private or public health insurance. The Patients Compensation System would make Florida a national model for how to protect the physician-patient relationship while bringing down health care spending in Florida. The new and improved Patients’ Compensation System will be filed in the 2016 Legislative Session and will be under review by Florida’s legislators.

Wayne W. Oliver is executive director for Patient for Fair Compensation.

 

 

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