This is called defensive medicine.
The Gallup organization says that one in four health care dollars can be attributed to unnecessary tests, procedures and medications that are spent in health care today as doctors routinely order them to keep from being sued. In Georgia, it is estimated this costs about $14 billion annually — enough to drive up the cost of health insurance, co-pays and premiums.
But under my proposal before the Georgia Senate, doctors would never have to fear lawsuits and the practice of defensive medicine would go away. Under Senate Bill 141, Georgia would replace its broken medical malpractice system with an administrative, no-blame model that resembles workers comp.
Under the proposed Patients’ Compensation System, a patient harmed by a physician would be able to file a case for review by a panel of health care experts. If the panel found “avoidable harm” had occurred, the case would be forwarded to a compensation board for compensation. The patient would receive compensation no less than under the current, adversarial court system.
The benefits are enormous as doctors and hospitals would no longer be hauled into court and physicians would stop ordering unnecessary tests and procedures. The PCS would accommodate more patients who are injured, including those with lower-value injuries who cannot find an attorney to represent them. In the new system, a physician who has made an error would be free to participate in enhancing patient safety as their personal wealth would not be in jeopardy.
But unlike our current system, there would be no trial, no protracted legal process and harmed patients would get their compensation in a matter of months instead of years. The Patients Compensation System would be funded by current malpractice premiums doctors and would not require a tax increase.
Many of those who have been harmed rarely get their day in court. A recent study published by an Emory University scholar found lawyers reject 90 percent of the cases when a patient has been harmed by a doctor and the majority only takes cases with potential awards of $500,000 or more.
But when it comes to health care, cost is the name of the game today. Delta Airlines says the new health care law will cost its company $100 million. UPS has decided to drop health care coverage for employees’ spouses. And IBM last week said it would no longer offer retirees health insurance coverage.
The Patients Compensation System could save Georgia $8 billion over the next decade with savings to both the private sector and the public sector. The cost savings to Georgia taxpayers who have to pay for Medicaid patients would be $3.1 billion of that savings — meaning Georgia would have more money for education, roads or even a tax cut.
If we are going to make this economy prosper and encourage job creation, we must get health care costs under control. Washington certainly won’t do it but we can do it right here in Georgia by replacing our state’s broken malpractice system with one that eliminates defensive medicine, cuts health care costs and gives patients greater access to justice.
Brandon Beach, a state Senator from Alpharetta, represents portions of Cherokee in the General Assembly. He is also president of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.