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How will the Affordable Care Act affect medical malpractice?

Ask anyone in New Mexico what they think of the Affordable Care Act, and you are likely to get some strong opinions on one side or the other of the divisive legislation. Some love it, some hate it, and still others feel ambivalent or indifferent.

But whatever your opinions are on the politics of health care reform, one thing is for certain: it is changing way things are done in the medical field, and that in turn will have an effect on medical malpractice. What exactly those changes will look like, however, remains to be seen.

As of April of this year, about 2 million people who were previously uninsured had signed up for medical insurance through the health care exchanges established by the ACA. Over the next few years, the number of newly insured individuals in the U.S. is expected to grow more than tenfold, to about 22 million.

As more people become insured and gain access to the health care system, the total number of people receiving medical care is likely to increase substantially. With more medical services being provided, medical errors may increase simply as a matter of scale, even if the overall quality of care remains the same.

Another potential side effect of the ACA is that increasing the number of patients could place additional strain on a system that is used to accommodating far fewer people. Unless the health care industry itself grows as quickly as the number of people who will be using it -- which appears to be unlikely -- this could lead to reduced quality of care across the board, at least until the system has a chance to catch up.

Source: Insurance Journal, "How Healthcare Reform Is Challenging Medical Malpractice," June 16, 2014

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