Though common-sense Americans have repeatedly raised the issue of tort reform while discussing health care legislation with members of Congress during town hall meetings this month, too many lawmakers and analysts still stubbornly insist that medical liability lawsuits do not contribute significantly to rising health care costs. These lawmakers and analysts are wrong.
A 2006 Harvard School of Public Health study found that four out of every 10 medical malpractice lawsuits filed in America each year were “without merit.” Nonetheless, defending against such lawsuits imposes costs on doctors, hospitals and insurers that invariably are passed on to health care consumers.
Beyond the obvious costs of litigation, more subtle costs related to the practice of “defensive medicine” are contributing to runaway health care inflation.
How much? In a Massachusetts Medical Society survey published last November, 83% of Bay State physicians cited the fear of being sued in their decisions to practice defensive medicine.
According to the 900 doctors anonymously surveyed, on average, 18% to 28% of tests, procedures, referrals and consultations and 13% of hospitalizations were ordered to avoid lawsuits. All of this adds at least $1.4 billion to annual health care costs in Massachusetts alone, and national estimates range as high as $200 billion.
So, as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour asks, “If we are trying to make health care more affordable, how can we leave out tort reform?”