The U.S. Supreme Court is set to release its ruling in the next week or two in the landmark case regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare:). As a New York medical malpractice lawyer I appreciate the significance of the decision, not just as a legal precedent but a decision that will affect healthcare options for many local residents.
The case was hotly contested, and it remains unclear how the court will ultimately rule. The entire bill could be tossed out, the “individual mandate” section may be removed, or the entire law could be upheld.
Age-old constitutional law issues are at the root of the legal challenge, with some arguing that the law represents an overreach of federal government power into policy arenas not allowed by the constitution. Yet, beyond the constitutional question, it is important not to lose sight of the practical effects that the decision may have on care received by all New Yorkers.
Will this ruling affect patient safety and quality of care?
Many have voiced concern about loss of vital patient safety rules if the law is struck down, in whole or in part. The Affordable Care Act includes provisions for a new Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety; more reporting of infections, injuries, and mistakes in hospitals; and incentives for doctors and other providers to improve patient care. This is aside from the central issue of the 50 million Americans who are uninsured and need health care.
A recent Scientific American story delved into these issues, profiling various advocates on the potential consequences of the Court’s ruling on patient safety.
Many worry that the important safety requirements in the bill will be lost if the measure is rejected by the Court. New York City medical malpractice attorneys appreciate that culture changes at medical institutions are rare and never come easily. Without strong direction at a federal level, vital safety steps at many of these institutions will never be taken. It would be a tremendous loss if reporting requirements and other safety measures were tossed out by the Court.
In addition, when uninsured people use emergency rooms as their only medical care, the overcrowding affects the emergency care that all patients receive. Hospitals are designed to be a place of last resort for genuine emergencies, so the current system may adversely affects the quality of patient care overall. Preventative care is often less costly (and less risky) than emergency treatment. Limiting emergency care, therefore, is itself an important way to minimize medical errors.
Some patient advocates argue that it is incumbent upon policymakers to focus more on patient safety in addition to expanded access to medical care. Without tackling the underlying medical malpractice issues, more people will get medical care, but they will also be exposed to infections and overtreatment and medical errors. If the Court strikes down some of the bill, they argue, then the opportunity should be used to focus even more intently on patient safety instead of expanded access to insurance.
What do you think?
This is obviously a pivotal national issue. Strong opinions on the law and likely court ruling are easy to find.
What do you think about this debate on the Affordable Care Act impacting patient safety? Are you concerned about how the Supreme Court’s decision will affect your own medical care?
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