New Study: Tort Reform Has Minimal Effect on Healthcare Savings
Tort reform has been at the forefront of the Republican agenda as a way to reduce our health care costs in the U.S. A main component of tort reform would eliminate “defensive medicine,” a practice in which doctors order tests, procedures, or visits with specialists in an effort to avoid “frivolous” malpractice lawsuits. The only problem? Their reasoning conflicts with the findings in a study released by a publication of the American Medical Association, JAMA Internal Medicine, which examines the true cost of defensive medicine in our country.
The doctors, insurance companies, and lawmakers rallying behind tort reform believe that defensive medicine is responsible for skyrocketing healthcare costs and that by eliminating these expenses, we will begin to see a decline in the cost of healthcare.
Defensive Medicine Accounts for Only 2.9% of U.S. Healthcare Costs
Led by Michael B. Rothberg, MD, MPH, of the Cleveland Clinic, researchers began the study by hypothesizing that doctors who were concerned about being targets of medical malpractice lawsuits would practice more defensively and have higher overall costs. If their suspicions had been correct, the information would have aligned with what tort reform supporters have been preaching. That is not, however, how things turned out.
After studying 3 different hospital medicine services, the researchers found that medical decisions made for purely defensive reasons account for only 2.9% of U.S. healthcare costs. They noted that doctors themselves might be overestimating the amount of defensive medicine they and their colleagues practice because while some procedures may be ordered in part defensively, they are ordered for other therapeutic or diagnostic reasons as well. In addition, despite the varying defensive medicine practices among the doctors in the study, the research concluded that physicians who wrote the most defensive orders ultimately spent less than their counterparts.
The individuals and groups pushing tort reform may continue to argue that 2.9% of healthcare costs is still 2.9% too much. However, in an article in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik debates that eliminating defensive medicine spending will just result in a shift in spending rather than an increase in savings. “Any ‘tort reform’ stringent enough to make that go away would likely create other costs, such as a rise in medical mistakes generated by the elimination of the oversight exercised by the court system,” wrote Hiltzik.
A Small Win for Victims of Medical Malpractice
As tort reform supporters push for eliminating defensive medicine and lowering damage caps in malpractice claims, they are neglecting something very important: there are real, genuinely injured medical malpractice victims who deserve justice and compensation. If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, Sokolove Law may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve. Call today for a free legal consultation.
One of the most talked-about tort reform laws is California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). In Part 2 of this blog series, we will talk more about this act and how Proposition 46 is affecting the November ballot.