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Study after study confirms that the medical malpractice “crisis” has its roots in the operating room, not the courtroom. A study released by HealthGrades, a consumer advocacy group that rates health care providers, found that an astonishing 1.2 million Medicare patients suffered “adverse safety incidents” in American hospitals over the two-year period, 2002-2004. Of those million-plus injured patients, more than 250,000 died preventable deaths, according to HealthGrades. The others were left to recuperate from their injuries, which ranged from unexplained post-operative fractures to surgical foreign objects being left in their bodies.

As if the medical data alone wasn’t enough cause for concern, HealthGrades also determined that the financial cost of medical negligence suffered by Medicare patients is staggering. From 2002 to 2004, the taxpayers paid nearly $9.3 billion to cover expenses related to the medical errors HealthGrades uncovered.

With HealthGrades’ study as a backdrop, it is incredible that some elected officials are still trying to shield healthcare providers from any liability for the injuries and deaths that they cause. Apparently, a nearly $5 billion annual subsidy from Medicare to cover the costs of botched care isn’t enough. Health care providers and their insurance carriers are demanding reforms that amount to blanket immunity.

There is no more vulnerable group of Americans than our elderly population. We must be fervent about protecting the lives and dignity of our elders. A vital tool in the protection of dignity of elderly people, and ensuring that their lives are deemed to have value, is giving them and their representatives the ability to seek redress for the harms that they suffer. But in the commotion surrounding the tort reform debate, the rights of the elderly are often ignored, even though (as HealthGrades showed so vividly), they are among the chief victims of medical negligence.

Rather than trying to prevent injured Medicare patients from coming into our courtrooms, policy makers should focus on ending taxpayer subsidies for substandard care. The 1.2 million Medicare patients who biannually are the victims of medical negligence should know that the pro-life community is standing with them.

In the aftermath of the HealthGrades study, we all have good reason to oppose tort reform proposals that would trample on injured patients’ rights. The same forces who propose tort reform support initiatives to eliminate rights for those injured on the job, injured in nursing homes and injured in automobile collisions. Coincidentally, it is big business, big insurance companies and their owned interests in Columbia and Washington who seek to eliminate our right to access our judicial system to seek justice from wrongdoers.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.

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