Impact of Noneconomic Damages Cap on Health Care Delivery in Hospitals
Noneconomic damages are losses sought in malpractice suits for pain and suffering, distress, reduced enjoyment of life and other consequences. Some policy makers and organizations argue that there should be a limit on the amount individuals can be paid for such damages because it is difficult for juries to accurately evaluate claims. In addition, some research has indicated that capping noneconomic damages can increase the number of physicians and thus improve access to health care.
A 2012 study from Seton Hall University published in the American Law and Economics Review, “The Impact of Noneconomic Damages Cap on Health Care Delivery in Hospitals,” used county-level data from 1990 to 2006 to find the effect of these caps on broad indicators of health care delivery. More than 30 states have some kind of limit on malpractice suit damage awards. Examined were rates of hospital admissions, number of surgeries and outpatient visits.
Findings of the study include:
- Overall, the estimated impact of caps on noneconomic damages was relatively small: Hospital admissions fell 2.5%, outpatient visits rose 4.5% and surgeries decreased 3.5%.
- Mortality as a result of surgical complications rose after the adoption of caps. The largest effect appears two years after surgery and is “consistent with a change in treatment patterns that increases the probability of complications.”
- Rates of emergency care were essentially unchanged by the adoption of damage limits.
For the researchers, the predicted decrease in surgeries is an indication the caps “lead to changes in health care that offset the impact of the increase in the number of providers.” This could include an improvement in overall health because of the increased number of physicians or a reduction in “defensive medicine” intended to limit the potential of malpractice claims.
Tags: tort reform, law, medicine, health care reform
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article “Lessons for Albany on Malpractice Limits.”
- If you were to revise the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.