Latest Symptoms of a Broken System

July 10, 2003

CALA Says Lawsuits are Making People Sick

Banner Democrat
Lake Providence, LA

Lawsuit abuse is making Louisianans sick-literally. That's the diagnosis from Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA). CALA will pursue a campaign to educate the care, curtail access to healthcare products and limit services.

The purpose of the campaign, "Lawsuit Abuse Makes Us Sick," is to educate consumers on how healthcare litigation is raising their costs for prescription drugs, health coverage and doctor visits, while also jeopardizing access to medical products and treatments. The flagship of the campaign is a new Web site, www.sickoflawsuits.org. The website provides and opportunity to learn more about healthcare liability abuses and how these abuses threaten our quality of healthcare.

"Patients bear the brunt of the lawsuit crisis, which is affecting how our healthcare is delivered in Louisiana and across the country," said Ron Gomez, executive director of CALA. "Medical liability lawsuits have driven up our healthcare costs and are threatening our access to doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, medical-implant devices and vaccines. We are all paying more for healthcare while, at the same time, losing access to products and services.

"When litigation forces healthcare costs to rise, the natural result is an increase in the cost of coverage. Unfortunately as the cost of coverage rises, so do the number of uninsured."

According to a study published in the journal of Health Economics, every ten percent increase in the cost of insurance creates a three to four percent decrease in the number of people who choose to purchase coverage.

"You don't have to be an economist to know that when people can't afford coverage, they can't afford care. When they can't get care, they just get sicker," Gomez said. "Already more than 40 million Americans have health no coverage, and that will only get worse if healthcare litigation is not brought under control.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, simply limiting "unreasonable: jury awards could cut health care costs by five to nine percent, saving $70-$126 billion each year and allowing an additional 2.4-2.3 million Americans to obtain medical insurance.

Added Gomez, "the impacts go beyond awards and settlements in high-profile cases. More and more doctors are being forced to practice 'defensive medicine,' leaving no procedure undone, whether needed or not, because of how it will look in court if they are sued." In a survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 79 percent of doctors said they had ordered more tests than needed based on their professional judgment. This defensive medicine alone is estimated to cost patients $50 billion per year.

"Not only are physicians and hospitals affected but the cost and availability of prescription drugs and medical devices are under gun. Frivolous litigation chills new discoveries and may lead to the withdrawal of beneficial products," said Gomez.

Due to the threat of liability, 75 percent of suppliers of biomaterials-substances such as silicon that are vital to medical implants have banned sales to U.S. manufacturers. and this is just one of area of medical science. The same pattern can be seen in other medical devices, as well as drugs.

"Unfortunately, litigation is not necessarily being pursued by just seriously ill or injured patients," said Gomez. "Litigation filed by relatively healthy people is not only driving medical costs through the roof, it is also jamming up the courts and making it harder for truly deserving people to get the compensation that is due them."

"We need to stop abuse of the civil justice system and its runaway impacts on medicine. It's just not healthy for any nation or for ourselves. We should all press for common sense measured to ensure that medical lawsuits are handled sensibly and that awards are kept to a reasonable level."

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