How Does Medical Malpractice Work in a Single Payer System?

Anyone who has followed American politics for the last several years knows that health care and health insurance are topics which are frequently debated. Regardless of one’s political beliefs or thoughts concerning health care, it’s fair to say that the passage of the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as “Obamacare”) represented a major change in the United States health care system. And based on current political discussions concerning health care, more change may be on the way. While only time will reveal the direction in which the country will move with regard to health care, the concept of a single payer system was frequently discussed during the last election cycle. This has prompted many people to ask how medical malpractice is addressed in a single payer system.

What is a Single Payer System?

Currently in the United States, even under the Affordable Care Act, multiple insurance companies compete for business and take part in financing health care. In contrast, in a single payer system, one payer, usually an agency of the government, takes the responsibility for paying all the costs of health care. In other words, “single payer” describes the method by which health care is funded, not the manner in which health care is delivered. Medicare is an example of a true single payer system, although it has age restrictions. Note that we are defining the term loosely, and that countries label a variety of systems as “single payer,” when in fact they are referring to a hybrid system, which involves both the government and private insurance companies.

 What Is Medical Malpractice?

A medical care provider commits medical malpractice by injuring a patient as the result of a failure to exercise the degree of diligence, care, or skill exercised by ordinarily prudent practitioners under the same or similar circumstances. Medical malpractice can occur from both acts and omissions. For example, performing a surgery incorrectly would be an act constituting malpractice. Failing to diagnose a condition that other reasonable doctors would have diagnosed is an example of an omission constituting medical malpractice.

Medical Liability in Single Payer Systems

Countries with single payer systems have addressed medical malpractice in a variety of ways. Health care providers in some countries purchase malpractice insurance, similar to practitioners in the United States. In some countries, on the other hand, malpractice claims are paid from the same trusts that collect money and pay for health care. Some people complain that this approach places the burden of paying for malpractice on citizen taxpayers, rather than on the health care provider responsible for the malpractice. Some countries limit medical malpractice recoveries by not recognizing punitive damages or the right to a jury trial.

Considering Options

Ultimately, arguments can be made in support of different viewpoints. But when it comes to protecting patients, the laws of Oregon and the United States have stood the test of time. By holding wrongdoers responsible for their negligence, victims are fairly compensated and negligent actors are held accountable to both the victim and to society. This helps to ensure that practitioners of the healing arts exercise the utmost levels of professionalism and care, which protects us all. It also fairly places the cost of medical malpractice on the professionals who are richly rewarded for their services. Thus, we believe that regardless of the payment system ultimately chosen for the provision of health care, these current important safeguards should remain in place.

Consult with a Lawyer

Proving medical malpractice can be expensive and complicated. Expert witnesses and an advanced understanding of medical issues are required. Moreover, when a medical care provider commits malpractice, the provider’s insurance company will provide knowledgeable, well-trained lawyers who fight to limit the injured patient’s recovery. While we appreciate the hard work and contributions of responsible medical professionals, we also believe that all of society benefits when wrongdoers in all professions are held accountable for their actions. If you have questions about medical malpractice, please call one of our experienced malpractice attorneys for a free consultation.


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