Last week the Illinois Supreme court ruled that a law passed in 2005 by state congress could not establish liability caps  limits for pain and suffering damages.  The overturned law capped the the amount for this portion of settlement to $500,000 or $1,000,000 for a doctor and a hospital respectfully.

The law was passed to curb the rising costs of medical liability in the state due to large “discretionary” settlements awarded by juries.  The court held that the cap violated the “separation of powers” doctrine by establishing limits to awards the judges feel appropriate in these types of cases.

My concern over this ruling is the wide ranging impact a decision like this has on the overall health costs and quality of care.   

  1. With the removal of the cap, the insurance company or medical professional will be subject to greater risk via larger potential cost in a law suit. 
  2. In order to offset this risk, a greater reward is required to fund the “pool” of money that must be available to pay for these types of claims. 
  3. To fund the pool (or pay the insurance premium) the costs for Dr. visits, procedures, hospital stays, tests, etc. will increase.
  4. To remove hints of impropriety, or improper medical treatment, more tests will be generated to validate the diagnosis.
  5. More tests lead to more medical charges.
  6. An increase in medical charges, leads to increased medical costs to insurance companies, employers and employees, and the associated increase in consumer goods to pay for the increased medical costs.
  7. Higher costs could limit the number of medical professionals in the state due to the high cost of establishing a practice.

I might be wrong, but the 2005 law reminds me of the Worker’s Compensation (WC)  coverage.  With WC an injury or death is covered at a set amount as established by a state board.  The coverage is provided by the company for the employee and if the employee is hurt while working, the insurance coverage kicks in.  For this coverage, the employee may not sue the employer and the employer may not terminate the employee.

This process makes sense to me.  The programs were established to protect the worker from unjust treatment, and to hold the employer accountable during work hours and unsafe working conditions.  It even protects the employees from those “oops” or “aw shucks”  where they ignore safety rules or make a stupid mistake and get hurt.

The Worker’s Compensation program has been doing an excellent job for a number of years and has helped to keep costs down.  Perhaps it’s time to expand the model to the medical insurance program. 

While I agree we should be limiting the costs associated with malpractice claims, I also think that the medical field should be held to accountable and a national board be established to review credentials, and make sure these professionals remain current and be certified and that the certification must be renewed on a regular basis.