Will The Health Care Reform Bill Affect Malpractice Lawsuits?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), or Obamacare, is having far-reaching impact on the medical industry in terms of health care access, quality and costs.

This Malpractice Guide guide explores how the number of malpractice lawsuits will be affected by health care reform.

The first thing to note is that the PPACA will expand the number of people with health care by 30-35 million. That means that more people will seek medical care, and there will be millions of additional encounters between doctors or nurses and patients, millions more prescriptions written and millions more tests and treatments done.

The result is expected to be a significant rise in the number of medical malpractice suits originated by patients and malpractice attorneys. There are two reasons for this.

The first is obvious: with more encounters, prescriptions, tests and treatments, more mistakes will be made. Or patients might imagine a mistake was made because the medication or treatment did not bring about the desired result.

A second reason for this is more concerning. There is already a shortage of doctors throughout the United States. Now, with 30 million new patients to treat, the shortage will be magnified. The inevitable result, at least until more people enter the medical profession, will be substandard care caused by the overwhelming patient load many doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals will face. There simply won’t be time enough to adequately diagnose and treat each person’s medical issues.

Unfortunately, mistakes of commission or ordering treatment or medications that should not be given, and mistakes of omission—failing to diagnose, order tests or prescribe medication or treatment, will both occur. That is the conclusion of medical experts who have studied the potential effects in detail.

The upside in this debate to more people having health insurance is that the emergency rooms of America’s hospitals will be less crowded. People without healthcare tend to wait until their condition is at a critical stage, and they head to the emergency room. More people insured will make emergency rooms less crowded and will cut down on mistakes caused by hurried, overworked medical personnel.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will also provide funding for more comprehensive electronic medical records which will assist in healthcare professionals sharing information needed to make good decisions about treatment and care. Research will also be funded in evidence-based medications and treatments, so more effective methods should be found to treat many illnesses and ailments.

In the short-term, therefore, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits being handled by malpractice attorneys will almost certainly rise. In the long-run, there is hope that they will fall because insured people will seek care sooner and treatments will be improved.