In its quest to purportedly “create healthcare savings,” the medical malpractice reform movement advocates setting caps on malpractice lawsuits as occurred in Tennessee. But, does this strategy actually work?
It’s conventional wisdom that medical costs are too high. Likewise, physicians do worry about getting sued. As a result of these fears, doctors can order tests and other medical services for the sole purpose of protecting themselves from potential legal action. The advocates of reform say that these unnecessary, expensive tests bloat health care budgets and lead to much higher costs.
However, evidence abounds to challenge this narrative.
A Rand Corporation study published last October in the New England Journal of Medicine examined what happened in three states that enacted tight, tough medical malpractice reform. Contrary to conventional intuition, these states did not see any substantial savings regarding costs or improvements in emergency room care. Quite interestingly, the authors of the study surmised that physicians “are less motivated by legal risks than they think they are.”
In South Carolina, Georgia and Texas, doctors can only be sued for malpractice in situations of “gross negligence” – a high bar to meet. The pro-reform movement came up with different interpretations of this study, but the Rand study is not an isolated piece of evidence. A study published just a month earlier in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that so-called defensive medicine costs (i.e. costs stemming from doctors ordering unnecessary tests to deflect possible liability) account for just 2.9 percent of hospital costs.
It’s state legislatures that are kowtowing to the medical malpractice reform movement enacting these ridiculously stringent guidelines and caps protecting those who already are afforded much as well as the institutions where they practice medicine, foregoing looking out for the average middle class citizen who falls victim to a botched medical procedure. And it’s state legislatures that voters should be contacting demanding justice be served to all, not just the well connected and affluent.