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Phoenix, Arizona

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The Medical Malpractice Reform Debate in Arizona

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With the medical malpractice reform debate gearing up this legislative session in Arizona, I thought I’d reflect on this highly emotionally charged issue. Doctors say that they cannot continue to practice medicine when insurance premiums continue to skyrocket. Patients want access to quality medical care and want accountability in case something goes wrong with their medical care. Is malpractice reform the best way to ensure that patients have access to quality care and doctors do not have to continue to pay escalating insurance premiums?

Some Arizona news accounts suggest that the medical malpractice reform initiative may be on the November ballot. Although the debate about liability reform in Arizona is highly charged, it should not require a faceoff between doctors and patients or patient adovcates. The debate about quality healthcare has gone on for years in other states. Doctors who practice medicine in other states that have enacted medical malpractice reform measures have not seen any appreciable or even measured slow-down in their malpractice insurance premiums. In fact, according to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, states which have enacted damage caps have 9.8% higher malpractice insurance premiums than in other states. States such as California have had malpractice reform since 1975 and doctors have continued to see escalating malpractice insurance premiums.

Consumer advocates suggest that malpractice limits prevent patients who suffer aggregious harm from recovering adequate compensation for real injuries. On the other side of the debate, physicians blame the justice system for escalating insurance premiums. It seems to me that doctors and patients should both agree that quality care should the be first and foremost priority and when somebody suffers harm due to the conduct of a care provider, that individual should be held accountable. It also seems to me that physicians should not have to pay skyrocketing health insurance premiums only to watch these insurance premiums lead to skyrocketing insurance company profits. Perhaps capping insurance company profits or placing some type of windfall profits tax on insurance companies in the context of this debate may actually lead to reduced malpractice premiums. From a pure economic perspective, government intervention into the private sector is inefficient, irrespective of whether this intervention is described as malpractice reform or a windfall profits tax on insurance carriers. If we can get away from advocating any type of government intervention by way of tort reform or a caps on insurance company profits, then we can look to other ways to control costs and promote quality care. I for one would like to see this discussion. What do you think?