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Academics: Tort Law Changes Won’t Fix Health Care

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Georgetown University hosted a panel titled, “Medical Malpractice & Health Care Costs: Can Tort Reform Bend the Curve?” yesterday at its law center. The panel was an analytical response to recent commentary that medical malpractice reform is a key part of reducing health care costs. Read an analysis of the panel from McClathy here.

There were three law professors and a national policy reporter on the panel. Overall, the panel members said that medical malpractice reform negligibly reduces health care costs. Further, the panelists suggested that the political discussion has ignored or failed to mention the statistical and research-based evidence relating to how defensive medicine and tort reform affects health care costs.

M. Gregg Bloche, a Georgetown University law professor, emphasized that malpractice composes a small percentage of health care costs and does not contribute to cost increases. He also said that reducing malpractice payouts would not create savings. Kethryn Zeiler, another law professor from Georgetown University, agreed with Bloche, stating:

"The bottom line is that (malpractice) tort reforms don’t work as well as proponents say they do," said Kathryn Zeiler, a professor of law and economics at Georgetown and a widely published author on the subject of malpractice revisions.

Providing a slightly different perspective, panelist David Hyman, a law professor at the University of Illinois and a Cato Institute scholar, said that the term “defensive medicine” is used too broadly and that politicians overlook the evidence that malpractice prevention does not create savings.

AAJ has created a series of reports examining the role of medical negligence in the health care debate. Just yesterday, AAJ released The Insurance Hoax: How Doctors and Patients Pay for the Huge Profits of Medical Malpractice Insurers. Visit www.justice.org/medicalnegligence to learn more (the reports can be found on the right-hand side of the page).

4 Comments

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  1. jim o'Hare vp med mal claims says:
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    It is the cost of healtcare period that is the problem. Suppose every Doc was required to order every test in the book. Now suppose the costs of those tests were now 25% cheaper.

    That 25- 30% savings is the difference between Aetnas and Humanas overhead and the govt’s overhead for medicare and medicaid. You do the math. The effect of med mal on Healthcare is minute. Focus on the problem and the rest takes care of itself.

  2. norris hall says:
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    It may not fix it but it will open up the floodgates to allow other areas to be tinkered with

    Many of us have always believed that greed is one of the factors that make our healthcare system the most expensive in the world.. Government has a place in keeping businesses…lawyers, drug companies, doctors, insurance companies…from making excessive profits off of people who can least afford it.

    Even Republicans are starting to get behind the concept that government intervention on behalf of consumers is not only necessary…it is also good.

    If we can put arbitrary caps on jury awards, we can put those same caps on the profits that drug companies, hospitals, doctors and insurance companies make.

    Tort reform in itself will only save our 2 trillion dollar a year healthcare system about 0.5%

    In itself…not a significant amount. But if you take the concept further and start putting caps not only on lawyers, but doctors, hospitals , insurance companies and drug companies…now you are talking real savings.

    Government limits to jury awards. Yes.
    Government limits to doctors fees. Yes
    Government limits to drug companies profits. Yes
    Government limits to insurance companies profits. Yes

    Now we are all talking the same language

  3. Christopher Russo says:
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    Wow. A bunch of lawyers host a “panel” and decide tort reforms are not necessary. Now there is a surprise. Please. At this very moment, on the cover of the Tampa Bay Yellow Pages, there are three different advertisements for three different malpractice firms. JUST ON THE COVER! You don’t think physicians think about these things as they are driving to work? I know I do. You can bet I am going to order all of the tests in the book to CMA. I am not about to give away what took me over a decade and a half to earn. Not a chance. The arguments against real tort reforms are old, tired, and stopped holding water a long time ago.

    Christopher Russo, M.D.

  4. Christopher Russo says:
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    I will not pretend I have all of the answers. I will leave that to folks who are smarter than I am. I do know that the just threat of getting sued plays a huge role in how physicians conduct themselves on a day to day basis. With today’s medicolegal climate, when I go to work and see a fairly routine patient with a fairly routine complaint, I am much more inclined to order a $10,000 work-up to get a 99% diagnosis, than to spend $200 to get a 97% diagnosis. Knowing that there are dozens of malpractice attorneys around the corner salivating to get their hands on me. Knowing full well, that although I may be innocent of any wrong doing, I may be tied up in court for years and that a judgement may be settled out of court because it is cheaper than actually defending myself. This is ‘lawsuit lotto’, and the attorneys know this. They will tell you that they are protecting patient’s rights, yet take 60% or more of any award. Make no mistake, I agree with compensating a person who is a victim of gross negligence, however, the trial lawyers have the current system rigged and flood Congress with money to keep it that way.

    Christopher Russo, M.D.
    University of Michigan Medical School ’94
    Interventional Pain Medicine