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Is the Legal System Killing Healthcare?

Tuesday February 2003


Dr. William Brody President, The Johns Hopkins University; Former Provost, Academic Health Center of the University of Minnesota; Radiologist and Former Radiologist-in-Chief at The Johns Hopkins Hospital
Philip K. Howard Lawyer and Author, The Collapse of the Common Good and The Death of Common Sense; Founder and Chair of Common Good; Vice Chair, Covington & Burling

American health care is in crisis. Health care costs are skyrocketing, malpractice insurance premiums are as high as $200,000 per year in some places; health care facilities are closing, and more than 41 million Americans are uninsured. Doctors are abandoning obstetrics and other specialties, and many are quitting practice altogether. Honesty and candor, vital to improving health-care systems and to delivering humane care, have been supplanted by a culture of legal fear. Vast resources are squandered in unnecessary “defensive” medicine. Drawn-out legal proceedings make it difficult to rid the system of bad providers, or even to determine the proper scope of health care coverage.

The causes of this breakdown are many and varied, but the crisis cannot be addressed without overhauling our unreliable legal system. Essential components of justice are missing today: there are no deliberate rulings of who can sue for what, or what is appropriate care. There are no societal judgments of the appropriate levels of compensation, or even recognition that monies spent in lawsuits deplete funds available for future health care.

Providing a solid foundation of reliable justice is essential to improving the quality and availability of health care. Dr. Brody and Mr. Howard will discuss the impact of law on health care. They will consider possible alternative structures for a reliable system of medical justice and the concomitant benefits to health care consumers.