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Medical Malpractice Bills Would Shift Costs of Medical Errors to Victims

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.

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