Could Obamacare Cause A Rise in Medical Malpractice Claims?

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The Affordable Care Act has been in the news for several years now: First a key piece of legislation of then candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, the Act was signed into law after President Obama took office over the objections from Republicans.

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Then the constitutionality of the Act was challenged in by several states and conservative organizations and was then challenged by several states and Conservative organizations in federal court.

In the summer of 2013, the central portions of the Act (popularly called “Obamacare” ) were upheld, although challenges to its implementation still remain.

If Obamacare remains the law of the land, more people will be entering the healthcare market. While this means more people will be seeing doctors and receiving treatment, which is a good thing, it will very likely result in an increase in medical malpractice claims as indicated in a piece in the Insurance Journal entitled, “How Healthcare Reform is Challenging Medical Malpractice.”

For example, through early April of this year, seven to eight million Americans had signed up for healthcare insurance and about 25% of them had never had insurance before. Within a few years that number will be about 22 million.

Along this record number of new people seeing doctors will undoubtedly come more medical practice claims.

Part of the problem may be that many individuals will no longer just see one doctor who diagnose him or her and treats him or her, but several different doctors — meaning there is no continuity of care. This could lead not only to the de-personalization of medical care, but also an increase in the number of medical malpractice claims.

Lawyers, patients, and individuals need to be aware of all this. While there may be an increase in the number of “claims” of medical malpractice this does not necessarily mean that actual medical malpractice has occurred under the law.

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Patients and would-be plaintiffs need to be aware that it will still be very difficult to successfully demonstrate that medical malpractice occurred: an opinion will still be needed from another doctor that the doctor-in-question who committed malpractice, did, in fact, commit medical malpractice.

The Insurance Journal makes it seem that medical malpractice could be the next “asbestos.” Although it might be too early to tell, I’d doubt it for a couple of reasons. First, asbestos litigation dealt with decades-long industry wide experience involving countless different companies, while a medical malpractice claim involves (generally) one doctor and one hospital.

Even if liability were spread to several doctors and hospitals, it’s doubtful that it would become as big an issue as the article suggests.

At the same time, individuals need to know that there are lawyers who will take on and try medical malpractice cases. Lawyers need to be aware the Obamacare will likely result in an increase number of inquiries from possible plaintiffs and need to be able to determine the likelihood that negligence was in fact committed.

Additionally, lawyers need to be aware that there may very well likely be several individuals who need to be sued, not just one individual doctor. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Obamacare will affect the medical malpractice cases in the years to come.

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