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William B. Eadie
William B. Eadie
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Why Tort Reform Won’t Reduce Healthcare Costs

2 comments

You may have heard the refrain: if only we could eliminate “frivolous lawsuits” and “defensive medicine,” healthcare could be affordable. No need to reform the system, just reform the lawsuit abuse.

Sometimes, things that sound too good to be true really are too good to be true.

A new whitepaper from the Center for Progressive Reform says medical tort reform won’t provide significant savings. The report asks a simple question that certain politicians and political pundits can’t answer: how can we reign in healthcare costs through “tort reform” if the costs of malpractice insurance and fairly compensating injured patients amounts to only 0.3 percent of total healthcare costs each year?

You can’t.

The report finds that the insurance companies are at the root of the problem, and that the focus on “tort reform” and claims about the costs of “defensive medicine” is nothing more than:

a politically expedient straw man, allowing policymakers and the insurance industry to ignore or obscure the real drivers of rising medical costs, including the high costs of prescription drugs; the high demand for, and increasing use of, state-of-the-art technology; the growing incidence of chronic diseases; and an aging population that lives longer and consumes more medical care.

I describe this assault by the insurance lobby on your constitutional right to civil justice “malpractice entitlement” because it amounts to a free pass for doctors who make patient-injuring, negligent decisions. (read more about malpractice entitlements)

The whitepaper “The Truth About Torts: Defensive Medicine and the Unsupported Case for Medical Malpractice ‘Reform’” is available in PDF, or you can read more in the press release. The true drivers for increasing healthcare costs, according to the whitepaper, are:

Instead of tort reform malpractice entitlements, the white paper urges that the focus should be placed on lowering the medical error rates, not keeping you from hiring medical malpractice attorneys.

Notably, and unlike tort reform, this has already worked before. In response to the medical malpractice “crisis” of the 1980s, the American Society of Anesthesiologists “undertook a massive project to identify every malpractice claim that had ever been made against an anesthesiologist.”

The anesthesiologists found that over a third of all claims against them sprang from very damaging, but very preventable, adverse events. Rather than fighting to limit patients’ rights, however, the professional organization instead pushed for better equipment, improved guidelines, and physician education. Today, anesthesiology has achieved the lowest error rate of any medical specialty – just four deaths per million exposures – and practitioners’ premiums are around the same levels they were in the 1980s. The anesthesiologists’ experience shows that reducing needless harm to patients serves everyone’s interests by reducing the number of negligent injuries and deaths while decreasing physicians’ malpractice insurance premiums dramatically.

Indeed, it is the malpractice itself that costs the system so much money, not to mention lives. Preventable medical errors lead to more than 98,000 deaths and costs the healthcare system $17 billion to $29 billion each year.

For more information on malpractice entitlements, see some of my prior articles:

2 Comments

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  1. Dale Coy, MD says:
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    When a lawyer gets sued for malpractice the plaintiff has to prove malice. Lawyers are protected against “failure to” types of lawsuits. Shouldn’t doctors malpractice have the same standards. Prove malice. I don’t think you will find it

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    @Dale Coy, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    You write that “When a lawyer gets sued for malpractice the plaintiff has to prove malice.” That is not correct: the standard is the same for medical or legal malpractice in all states of which I am aware, and certainly never requires malice.

    Let me know to what you’re referring and perhaps we can sort out where you got that mistaken impression. That would be a high standard, indeed.