This blog post is a writing assignment for MAST 1010: Legal & Ethical Concerns in the Medical Office, part of the Health Care Management (HC23) Associate of Applied Science Degree program at Southern Crescent Technical College.
The article “California Increasing Awards in Medical Malpractice Cases,” published in Insurance Journal in the spring of 2022, is relevant to current healthcare legal issues regarding malpractice lawsuits, damage awards, and malpractice insurance. The article is about recent proposed legislative changes in California that would facilitate increasing malpractice lawsuit awards. The state does not cap compensatory damages to recover losses with measurable value like lost wages but has had a cap of $250,000 on awards paid for damages with no quantifiable value like emotional damage since 1975. Doctors support the cap to maintain lower malpractice insurance premiums and protect small medical practices and clinics, but lawyers and other patient advocates want to raise it to support patients victimized by negligence. Voters from opposing sides were expected to decide in November, but the proposal was removed from the ballot. Instead, a new proposed bill replaces the measure and would progressively raise the cap over the next decade. The proposed cap would be “$750,000 for injured patients and $1 million for families of deceased patients” (Beam, 2022) by 2033, and inflation would continue to increase it by 2% annually. The purpose of the gradual increase is to prevent malpractice insurance premiums from increasing too rapidly. Some see the bill as a compromise and hope the opposing sides can cooperate on future changes (Beam, 2022).
If the bill in California passes, doctors in California will have to pay increasingly higher premiums over the next decade and beyond. Other state legislatures could also pass similar bills with similar effects. This issue discussed in this article is not limited to California. Other states, including Georgia, have similar problems, impacting numerous doctors and surgeons in the U.S. All states will not propose or pass identical legislation but have similar ideas. The outcome of higher malpractice insurance premiums can lead to increased medical costs and doctors limiting their services to reduce risk, moving to states with lower premiums, or changing professions. Doctors changing jobs exacerbates the doctor shortage, and restricting services reduces medical care access. This issue also affects medical practices and their staff. Some practices may be forced to close due to an expense they cannot afford, leading to job losses. Such a measure punishes all doctors for the fault of a few by forcing them all to pay higher premiums. All medical professionals, including medical assistants, must cooperate, follow policies and procedures, follow protocols, and be careful to prevent medical errors and negligence. A medical assistant is her employer’s agent and can be equally negligent or guilty. Their actions could also lead to a lawsuit. Most importantly, such measures and safeguards save lives.
References Beam, A. (2022, April 29). California Increasing Awards in Medical Malpractice Cases. Insurance Journal. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2022/04/29/665273.htm.
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