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Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages, Bad For Patients

Approximately half of the states currently have caps on payments in malpractice cases. These states have passed laws that typically limit the amount that a victim of medical malpractice can be awarded for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages; however, some states have limited both non-economic and economic damages (medical expenses and lost wages). And almost every political cycle, the debate concerning limiting medical malpractice damages in Pennsylvania and nationwide opens up.

Recently, The Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, published a study that concluded that caps on damages only serve to hurt consumers and that most of the justifications used by proponents of caps on damages just simply aren’t true. The study shows that caps on awards may result in some patients not receiving adequate compensation for injuries they suffer as a result of physician/hospital negligence and that because caps limit physician liability, they can also dampen incentives for physicians to track and reduce the risk of negligent injuries.

The study also describes that limiting damages would not necessarily decrease the overall cost of health care or reduce insurance premiums for doctors, reasons commonly invoked by supporters of caps. The study supports the view of opponents of damage caps, who rightly point out that caps shift the costs of malpractice injuries from negligent providers to their victims. Additionally, the study is highly critical of state medical boards for not doing more to warn the public of high-risk physicians.

For now, Pennsylvania has rejected attempts to limit medical malpractice damages awards, but those who favor caps have vowed to continue the fight.

To read the Cato Study in its entirety, visit www.cato.org

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