Medical Malpractice Immunity?

(Crossposted to Saintless.com)

S.B. 79 – Health Reform – Medical Malpractice Amendments is misleading in it’s title. Health reform is generally thought of as something that improves the quality or availability of health care. In this case, it’s just the opposite.

The general summary is that it will grant immunity to Emergency Room Doctors, and other staff, from malpractice. It will require a “clear and convincing evidence for malpractice actions based on emergency care received in an emergency room”, which sounds like it might be a good thing.

According to the Deseret News article today:

In effect it will “institutionalize bad medicine in Utah and make it virtually impossible for lawyers to sue doctors for negligently cutting off the wrong leg,” said attorney Joe Steele.

Cutting off that wrong leg would be deemed “mere” negligence, which would mean the injured patient would have no right to trial whatsoever.

But, listen to this story from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Karla Glodowski still cries when she talks about what happened to her 8-year-old son, Christopher.

In July 2002, the then-16-month-old stuck his finger in his older sister’s bike chain, ripping it off from the tip to the first joint. When doctors intubated him for surgery, however, the asthmatic toddler suffered a bronchial spasm, depriving him of oxygen and ultimately leading to an anoxic brain injury.

Now Christopher goes to school, but mainly for the light stimulation and muscle movement. “He’s never going to learn to read and to write and to add. He’ll never be able to talk. His schooling is just therapy,” his mother said.

More than a year after their boy’s injury, the Glodowskis settled out of court with the hospital that treated Christopher, providing them with the means to take care of their son. But Karla fears that tort reform legislation proposed by Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, will make it more difficult for other Utahns to seek the same relief.

Also part of the bill, new requirements for out of state doctors to testify in such a case would make them subject to disciplinary actions that they might not otherwise, which would discourage them from doing so in the first place.

Under the bill, in-state doctors would be protected from out-of-state, expert scrutiny, he said, by expert witnesses requiring them to associate with local doctors and voluntarily subject themselves to the Utah Medical Association.

We’re not talking about a huge number of lawsuits against doctors in Utah in the first place. The supposed point of this is to reduce the cost of ER Doctor’s medical malpractice insurance. But, that isn’t likely to happen. The cost of that insurance will continue to skyrocket. But, consumers will be placed more at risk because this bill would encourage sloppiness, and it would prevent many, especially the poorest among us, from having any recourse if a doctor screws up.

Is there a crisis in this state? Yes, an insurance crisis, not a medical negligence crisis. The answer is not to push for restrictions on the rights of patients but to reign in the insurance companies from price-gouging consumers and doctors as claims continue to decline. With medical negligence being the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, we should be embracing improved patient safety as the way to lower medical malpractice costs – not locking the courthouse doors on everyday Americans.

This is a case of state government removing protections from citizens, and lowering the standard of our health care. And it’s now on the Senate Floor. Don’t let this one pass. Call your Senator and tell them this is a bad idea.

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