The NY Times published this piece by David Leonhardt, which I believe does a great job of avoiding the emotion of the subject and examining the matter on the facts alone. Tort reform is on everyone’s lips as we discuss changes to our health care system, but there is no valid reason why. Our health system is a mess for a number of reasons, the least of which is the plaintiff bar. Mr. Leonhardt cites economists who say:
The direct costs of malpractice lawsuits — jury awards, settlements and the like — are such a minuscule part of health spending that they barely merit discussion…
…All told, jury awards, settlements and administrative costs — which, by definition, are similar to the combined cost of insurance — add up to less than $10 billion a year. This equals less than one-half of a percentage point of medical spending.
I have made the point in previous posts, that very few medical malpractice cases are accepted by attorneys and/or go to trial. The high cost of a lawsuit and the difficulty in proving medical malpractice prohibits excessive lawsuits. Mr. Leonhardt supports my opinion:
After reviewing thousands of patient records, medical researchers have estimated that only 2 to 3 percent of cases of medical negligence lead to a malpractice claim.
Contrary to the perception of some, we do not have a court system backlogged with frivilous medical malpractice lawsuits which are causing the death of our health care system. The number of cases and costs attributed to medical malpractice litigation is astonishingly low in comparison to the total cost of our health care system.
Mr. Leonhardt does criticize the current system by pointing out that fear of malpractice leads to defensive medicine which is often wasteful. Unfortunately, there is no solution to combatting defensive medicine. States that have medical malpractice caps, or other legislation meant to curb litigation, often have similar amounts of spending. One reason could be that doctors are paid more for doing more, and the excess testing and treatment is as much financial opportunism as it is defensive medicine.