Voice: State Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes
Amidst an epidemic of medical errors, State Sen. Roger Kahn – a doctor himself – is pushing a get-out-of-jail-free pass for negligent doctors who maim and kill patients in Michigan with misguided legislation [SB 1110, SB 1115, SB 1116, SB 1117, and SB 1118].
These bills would provide immunity that would protect drunk, drugged or incompetent doctors from the consequences of their actions, shifting the costs of medical errors to victims, their families, taxpayers and hospitals.
Sen. Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, recently told a Senate committee that his medical error immunity proposal is designed to avert a “doctor shortage” — which does not exist. Kahn cited a flawed eight-year-old study that mistakenly claims Michigan has a million more people than we actually have and uses a lack of highly trained specialists in far flung rural areas to claim that Michigan in general suffers a shortage of these specialists. Dr. Kahn never explains how protecting the 6 percent of repeat-offender doctors who cause 62 percent of medical errors will solve this nonexistent problem, and never bothers to reveal his own conflict of interest as a cardiologist who still has a financial stake in being immunized from the costs of his own errors.
Last year, an estimated 66,000 Michigan families were devastated by medical errors; more than 6,000 patients in Michigan were killed by preventable medical errors. These numbers have more than doubled in the past 20 years. One in three hospital patients are affected by medical errors and over half of doctors admit to not reporting serious medical errors. As many as 86 percent of serious medical errors that cause harm to patients are never reported at all. This patient safety crisis costs Michigan an estimated $12 billion to $28 billion each year. Clearly, medical errors are out of control and patient safety is in crisis.
Ninety-two percent of the public thinks that reporting such medical errors should be mandatory, yet the only record of such incidents [the National Practitioners Database] is not open to the public and the American Medical Association produces a guide for doctors on how to avoid having their errors recorded.
Luckily, some are working hard to address this patient safety crisis. Michigan hospitals and health centers are studying new processes and procedures that will make error reporting mandatory and ways to minimize errors. The Michigan Health and Hospital Association is a national leader in such patient safety reforms, working with other hospitals across the nation to minimize hospital-acquired conditions. The University of Michigan is a national role model for patient safety and the reporting of errors.
Yet Dr. Kahn wants to all but do away with accountability for the small number of bad doctors who harm most patients. Kahn’s proposals would undo the patient safety reforms championed by Michigan hospitals and conscientious lawmakers. Kahn’s bills would radically increase the costs of medical errors to taxpayers. They would also destroy accountability for bad doctors from outside of Michigan who come here to practice when they have nowhere else to go.
As a State Representative, I oppose Dr. Kahn’s efforts to provide immunity for medical errors. Michigan families need safe medical care, not additional millions in costs that would be transferred from those who harm or kill patients to taxpayers. I intend to work hard to make patient safety a priority, to keep costs low for Michigan families, and to stand up against self-interested legislation designed to protect a few bad doctors at the expense — and in some cases the ultimate expense — of the rest of us.
Stacy Erwin Oakes is a state representative for the 95th District which covers Saginaw and Zilwaukee, along with Bridgeport, Buena Vista, Carrollton, James, Kochville, Spaulding and Zilwaukee townships.