Note: filistro is on vacation. This article was previously written.
Q: What’s even worse than being subjected to the pain and indignity of a vasectomy?
A: Enduring the pain and indignity of a vasectomy, having it fail, and getting your wife pregnant anyhow.
Q: What’s even worse than that?
A: Being the doctor who performed the botched vasectomy, and discovering the couple who got pregnant as a result are suing you for child care.
Scott and Donnita Bassinger of Eugene, Oregon are suing the doctor who performed Scott’s failed vasectomy in 2007. They are asking for $650,000 to cover the cost of their newborn son’s Caesarean delivery, all costs associated with his upbringing, and the expenses related to his eventual college education.
This will be a fascinating case to watch, especially at a time when the public’s attention is going to be newly focused on health care and the contentious issue of tort reform.
According to the American Medical Association, defensive medicine increases health systems costs by between $84 and $151 billion each year…About 10 percent of the cost of medical services is linked to malpractice lawsuits and more intensive diagnostic testing due to defensive medicine, according to a January 2006 report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for the insurers’ group America’s Health Insurance Plans. The figures were taken from a March 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that estimated the direct cost of medical malpractice was 2 percent of the nation’s health-care spending and said defensive medical practices accounted for 5 percent to 9 percent of the overall expense.
It is estimated as well that the prohibitive cost of malpractice insurance has driven as many as one in every 12 American obstetricians out of practice, resulting in nationwide shortages. Texas reformed its medical liability laws in 2003, and saw an unprecedented 58% increase in applications for medical licenses in that year alone. By 2007, Texas had witnessed a 7.2% increase in the number of practicing obstetricians, with comparable increases in other specialties as well.
But of course there is another side to the coin. Instances of genuine medical malpractice are increasing as well, and there are many instances where doctor and/or hospital negligence causes real harm.
From the aforementioned article:
A recent study by Healthgrades found that an average of 195,000 hospital deaths in each of the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 in the U.S. were due to potentially preventable medical errors. Researchers examined 37 million patient records and applied the mortality and economic impact models developed by Dr. Chunliu Zhan and Dr. Marlene R. Miller in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 2003. The Zhan and Miller study supported the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) 1999 report conclusion, which found that medical errors caused up to 98,000 deaths annually and should be considered a national epidemic…A 2006 follow-up to the 1999 Institute of Medicine study found that medication errors are among the most common medical mistakes, harming at least 1.5 million people every year. According to the study, 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals, 800,000 in long-term care settings, and roughly 530,000 among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics. The report stated that these are likely to be conservative estimates. In 2000 alone, the extra medical costs incurred by preventable drug related injuries approximated $887 million—and the study looked only at injuries sustained by Medicare recipients, a subset of clinic visitors. None of these figures take into account lost wages and productivity or other costs.
Settlement amounts vary widely and can include both compensation and (more rarely) punitive damages. However, most settlements are not the enormous, shockingly inflated sums that tend to get the lion’s share of public and media attention. Much of the real expense of malpractice claims goes to administrative costs.
More from the article:
Most (73%) settled malpractice claims involve medical error. A 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that claims without evidence of error “are not uncommon, but most [72%] are denied compensation. The vast majority of expenditures [54%] go toward litigation over errors and payment of them. The overhead costs of malpractice litigation are exorbitant.” Physicians examined the records of 1452 closed malpractice claims. Ninety-seven percent were associated with injury; of them, 73% got compensation. Three percent of the claims were not associated with injuries; of them, 16% got compensation. 63% were associated with errors; of them, 73% got compensation (average $521,560). Thirty-seven percent were not associated with errors; of them, 28% got compensation (average $313,205). Claims not associated with errors accounted for 13 to 16% percent of the total costs. For every dollar spent on compensation, 54 cents went to administrative expenses (including lawyers, experts, and courts). Claims involving errors accounted for 78 percent of administrative costs.
Whether tort reform is really a magic bullet that will help shoot down skyrocketing health care costs is something that can (and no doubt will) be argued endlessly. But nowhere will we see a better illustration of its complexities than in this question: Are Dr. Stephen Schepergerdes and Oregon Medical Group liable for the upbringing and college education of Scott and Donnita Bassinger’s infant son?