The limits of malpractice tort reform

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Charles Krauthammer suggested fixing the medical tort system ["Kill the bills. Do health reform right," op-ed, Nov. 26] as one part of a three-pronged alternative to comprehensive health-insurance reform, but this part wouldn't work.

At the core of the current malpractice system is the assumption that injured people are on their own, so they have to claw back enough resources to take care of themselves for the rest of their lives. Between "preexisting condition" exclusions, lack of guaranteed lifetime continuity of insurance and arbitrary coverage limits, nobody can count on being covered. We are all just one job loss and one illness away from an existential threat.

Under such circumstances, suing for damages is simply the most rational choice for someone saddled with a long-term health handicap. The money, nominally for past events, can't really compensate for damage already done -- instead, it ensures that future needs are met.

If health-insurance reform gave an assurance of some level of care to people injured by malpractice, there would be much less incentive to sue. The entire moral, economic and legal argument for the tort system would change, making it much easier to reform.

Przemek Klosowski, North Potomac

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