Does New York have a medical malpractice problem?

Every year, the state is among those with the highest number of medical malpractice cases. In 2008, for instance, New York and New Jersey were the only states that had more than 1,000 cases of medical malpractice filed. That year, New York had more than 4,000 cases, almost quadruple that of New Jersey.

And while medical malpractice cases dropped by significant margins in other states (more than 30 percent in Connecticut and New Jersey), the decline in New York was only one percent.

It’s not just the number of cases, it’s how many are leading to big payouts. New York joined just four other states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, and Florida) in paying out 48% of cases or more.

These numbers are significant and tell us several important things: first, New York has an above average, perhaps even abnormal, number of medical malpractice cases. And second, those numbers will only get more glaring compared to other states if the decrease in cases continues to drop by such a measly rate.

Whether this is a positive or negative for the state depends on which side of the case someone sits on. If a doctor, it’s a sign that insurance is sure to be high in a state that is already among the most expensive to live in. It’s also a sign that patients are more likely to be looking for errors and lawsuits are likely to be more frequent.

On the other hand, these statistics may be signs of a properly functioning system in which patients that have been harmed or killed due to medical malpractice are seeing their fair share of justice dolled out.

Medical error is the third most common cause of death in America, and though the percentage of errors that are due to malpractice are hard to estimate, it may be that New York’s numbers are closer to the truth than, say, those numbers coming from Kansas. There is any number of ways a doctor or other medical professional might make a mistake that could be deadly. And the fact lawyers are so keen upon this issue may not only be about the money, there is some justice to be sought out here.

Still, in all things related to health care, the cost of such issues must be considered. The more medical malpractice suits and the more suits that lead to payouts, the higher the cost of care will be for the consumer, and the higher the insurance will be as well.

Looking through that lens, New York does indeed have a medical malpractice problem, at least as much it has a health care affordability problem. Should health care reform take another step forward (or backward) in the coming years, malpractice suits may be a cost-saving element worth looking at.

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