Malpractice and Medicaid: What You Need to Know before You Decide


            I have “public insurance,” that is Medicaid, because I am poor.  I am poor because of the existing malpractice situation.  Before you change the malpractice and Medicaid laws, you should read what I’ve learned.

            My doctor was incompetent.  One doctor described her as “significantly below incompetent,” another simply snorted in disgust when she heard my doctor’s name.  Under existing regulations, doctors are supposed to report their colleagues who are damaging patients.  They don’t do it.

            The first place you start to fix the malpractice crisis is by getting doctors to put the welfare of their patients ahead of the welfare of their colleagues.  If they want their malpractice insurance to go down, they should start by getting their bad-practicing colleagues out of the field.

The Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) is the place you go to file a complaint against a doctor.  Very few people know that.  Make it high profile.  Put the name, address and phone number of the OPMC on every treatment room wall, medical release form and insurance claim.  Instead of making medical error a million-dollar business in the courts, make it a licensing matter in the education system.

Hold doctors accountable; they do not exist above the law.  Retrain doctors who don’t know what they’re doing, send the drunks and druggies to rehab, and put the significantly incompetent out of business.  The way to lower malpractice settlements is to fix doctors before they make enormously actionable errors.

In one year, in Onondaga County, about 7000 complaints were filed against doctors; 6,600 of them were dismissed, with the county medical association president saying they were frivolous.  Six thousand six hundred people do not file frivolous claims.  In the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, nurses are the investigators and doctors are the judges.  Put consumers with normal sensibilities and normal expectations into the system.  Stop letting doctors judge themselves; they give themselves a pass every time.

My doctor prescribed medication and did not monitor it, resulting in permanent kidney damage to me.  The doctors I saw for treatment of the disease covered up the fact that it had been caused by the doctor prescribing the drug.  Look at the motivations here, and figure out an incentive to make it more worthwhile for a doctor to report a damaging colleague than to protect him or her. 

Mistakes don’t just happen; they have causes.  Instead of looking for someone to blame, look for something to fix.  What caused the doctor to do wrong?  Like the National Transportation and Safety Board, create an investigation unit to discover causes.  Fix the problem instead of placing the blame.

It took me two years to figure out that the doctor had caused my kidney damage.  At that time, the statute of limitations on malpractice was three years.  In the remaining year, I could not find a lawyer to take the case (it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than you know).  One lawyer from a large legal firm refused to take the case, saying, “This would only settle for about $70,000 and, frankly, we were hunting for a windfall.”

            The treatments for my kidney damage and other illnesses resulting from the chemical assault have now cost the taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars—and you get to keep paying.

            If you limit malpractice suits, you put the burden of medical payments on the taxpayer.  Instead of the doctor paying, you pay.  You might want to think about that before you cast your next vote.

            The statute of limitations in New York State has already been reduced from three years to two and a half.  Why?  Why have we let legislatures and lobbies decide that doctors do not have to be accountable for the things they do wrong?  Why is there any limit at all?  I don’t get to walk away from my sickness after two or three years—why does the doctor get to walk away from responsibility?  She was incompetent and you let her keep practicing!  She was still practicing medicine when she died two years ago.  Do you know how many more people she hurt?  Lots.

            Stop making malpractice so profitable for lawyers, and make it available to the indigent.  I could not get a lawyer because I was poor; I was poor because the damage made me too sick to work.  In New York State, you have to prove loss of future income in order to win a malpractice suit.  If you already have been so badly damaged that you are not working, you can’t sue. 

        Legal Aid, i.e., lawyers paid by the government to serve the poor, legally cannot take malpractice cases because they are considered profit making.  Malpractice cases are not a profit making business.  They serve two purposes:  paying for real medical expenses, and punishing doctors.  Make the punishment professional, not financial, and let lawyers for the poor sue for malpractice.  By doing so, they will be transferring the cost of medical expenses from the taxpayer to the doctor, where they belong.

            Most of the people I know who have been damaged would settle for real expenses, $5000 and the doctor’s head, instead of $14 million dollars.  Doctors do not suddenly make one disastrous mistake; they show a pattern of failure to perform properly long before they get the big malpractice suit.

            Stop dismissing patient’s complaints as frivolous nuisances and start to deal with them for what they are:  distant early warning signs of a doctor gone bad.  Reduce malpractice settlements by dealing with doctors when patients first start filing complaints against them and you will reduce malpractice settlements.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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One Response to Malpractice and Medicaid: What You Need to Know before You Decide

  1. arleen fordock says:

    Believe it’s quite a education in futility to process a complaint via the Office of Professional Med Conduct.
    Even tho I involved the Commissioner of NYS Health Dept, after OPMC’s denial, all I got from Ms
    Antonia Novello was a notice from Mr Graziano to meet with the Syracuse office of OPMC(approximately
    2007). Was fruitless as I walked into conference room to see no paperwork in front of the office manager
    and the doctor in charge (Dr Britton). Having waited almost 22months and then get a denial was a
    excrutiating experience at the hands of the local OPMC office and no Commissioner of Dept of Health even
    referred to that length of time as being anything to even comment on. Later, approximately 2009, I read
    that the Attorney General’s office might be a place to call; their response was “the Investigator” for OPMC
    was to do a “field” visit on ME & my response was that a field visit never was done. Therefore I tried to re-open
    my complaint via Albany. The sad result of that attempt was the angst at waiting for an answer! Finally I wrote
    or called Albany OPMC, they responded that a reply will be coming. The magical time period is never given for a
    response to be given to me. Months later, I wrote them(OPMC). Some official “deputy” replied back (by letter) that my
    future writings would be archived and no response given. So the “investigator” employed under civil service
    law escapes getting reprimanded for NOT doing a “field” visit on me at my home in order to assess “health”
    condition of me BEFORE the denial is given. What a program! Saves the doctor, and the investigator, and as
    you can surmise my frustration is severe. (I suggest ” patients” go into the internet, put in every name of every
    doctor you’ve seen or will see and get the information as to any legal actions, any loss of license, and any $ awards
    given to proper “complainants” AND it’ll say such things as “damaged a patient who was anorexic, caused death of
    patient via colonoscopy or damaged a heart patient”; it will also showw if doctor was put on “mentoring” and show for how
    long and will show if court action is involved currently;—the site is found under NYSdept of health which links to
    Office of Professional Conduct”. If you are not the patient, help others to reach this site. The present NYS Dept
    of Health “Commissioner Mr. Daines”, reachable in 2011, for any action you might seek as long as it’s according to the 2& 1/2 year statute–on filing complaints against doctor etc. My mistake in past was to phone call the local OPMC office, so that if
    paper evidence of their lack was needed then I had none. Please learn by my mistake of waiting 18months before calling manager of local OPMC! Patience was not a virtue for me, please learn from my experience to be fearless and
    stay aware of your rights.

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