Seattle, WA, United States (KaiserHealth) – A jury ordered the giant medical scope maker Olympus Corp. to pay a Seattle hospital $6.6 million in damages tied to a deadly superbug outbreak – and told the hospital to pay $1 million to a deceased patient’s family.
But jurors on Monday also handed the Tokyo-based manufacturer a key win, rejecting claims that its flagship duodenoscope was unsafe as designed.
The decision follows an eight-week trial, the first in the U.S. related to gastrointestinal scopes causing outbreaks of drug-resistant infections.
The case was filed by Theresa Bigler, 61, and her four children in connection with the August 2013 death of Richard Bigler, a pancreatic cancer patient who contracted an infection linked to a contaminated Olympus scope. The hospital, Virginia Mason Medical Center, later joined in the suit against Olympus, but the jury found it shared some blame in the case.
An Olympus official offered condolences to the Bigler family in a statement and praised the jury’s decision.
“We are appreciative that the jury recognized that Olympus’ duodenoscope design was not unsafe and did not contribute to Mr. Bigler’s unfortunate passing in 2013,” said Sam Tarry, an attorney for the company.
But the jury also said Olympus failed to provide adequate warnings about the scope or instructions for its use after it was manufactured. The jury said that failure harmed Virginia Mason Medical Center.
Theresa Bigler’s attorneys cast the decision as a win for patient safety.
Said Butler on his quest to see the law enacted: “The health care industry has a lot of political power and lots of money. It’s hard to fight on behalf of people against this kind of force.”
The law’s next test will come in August, when the first court hearing on the association’s lawsuit is scheduled. The Kasich administration said it couldn’t comment on the law because of the pending litigation.
Greater price transparency has been a popular policy prescription for America’s high health costs, especially at a time when many patients have high-deductible insurance plans and face larger copayments. Upfront estimates exist in other countries, such as Australia and, for patients facing out-of-pocket expenses, in France.
In Massachusetts, patients can get an estimate within two days of admission if they ask for it. Nebraska requires hospitals and surgical centers to provide a list of the average charges for services. New Hampshire has a website where consumers can compare costs.
Hospitals and doctors often oppose such measures. The American Hospital Association’s position is that health plans – not hospitals – are responsible for telling insured patients about their out-of-pocket costs, according to its website.
Aimee Winteregg, 35, of Troy, Ohio, said she would have liked such information before five miscarriages in four years left her buried in unexpected medical bills. She and her husband became first-time parents in November. Though they are well insured, tests and treatment cost the couple $4,000 out-of-pocket, demanded in bills that were sometimes no more descriptive than for “medical service.”
“We don’t want to deal with this, especially when the doctor tells you stress is bad for the pregnancy,” her husband, J.D., said. But imposing greater transparency has been controversial in both the medical industry and among some health care researchers, who say it puts patients in an untenable position.
The transparency law “was written by someone thinking about health care as a TV, and not as health care,” said Sandra Tanenbaum, a professor of health services management and policy at The Ohio State University College of Public Health.
She said people could not shop for procedures as they would for a TV or car repairs, since they often lack information on the quality of doctors and hospitals, and make health care decisions based on much more than cost.
Consumers are more likely to base their decisions on their doctors’ advice, not on cost alone, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.
Only around 10 percent of health care costs are even “shoppable” expenses – procedures that can be scheduled in advance, like an MRI or elective surgery – according to the HPIO.
Regardless, Butler maintains, the health care industry can give consumers better information upfront. “If you really want patients to be empowered, they really need the information,” he said.
In support of such access, Butler has written letters to the Ohio Hospital Association, the Ohio attorney general and the Dayton Daily News, all in defense of the transparency law.
The Ohio Hospital Association, along with seven other Ohio health organizations, went to court last December to block the law, a month before it was supposed to take effect.
Butler said Gov. Kasich’s administration is helping the hospital association stall by not writing regulations, eliminating funding for the law in the state budget, and declining to meet with Butler to discuss it.
State Rep. Michael Henne, also a Republican, has worked with Butler in the Ohio General Assembly on the transparency law. He called Butler a “driver” on the law, noting: “It’s frustrating. You don’t realize how much [influence] special interests have in the process.”
– Provided by Kaiser Health News.
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