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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Debate Rages Over “Costs” of Defensive Medicine

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Lately it seems like a growing chorus of tort reform advocates, led by the multi-billion dollar insurance industry, has been decrying the high “cost” of a practice called “defensive medicine.” In defensive medicine, doctors and other health professionals order numerous expensive (they might say “unnecessary”) tests in order to insulate the provider from allegations that too little was done to diagnose and/or treat a patient. Insurance companies claim that these tests result in superfluous costs that increase the price of health care for everyone. Aside from the fact that there is very little evidence to prove its argument, the insurance industry is missing a far more important point: “Defensive medicine” saves lives.

A diagnostic test that can rule out or, in some cases, reveal a serious medical condition is not “unnecessary” to the patient in need of the test. While the cost of health care is something we need to be aware of, insurance companies do not seem to recognize the value of a human life in their calculations. In the rare instances where doctors really are ordering expensive and unnecessary tests (say, a full-body MRI for the patient with a stubbed toe) and billing insurance, the insurance industry should be dressing down the providers, not the patients. Certainly a prospective, prevention-oriented medical practice is better for the patient’s health.

The insurance industry is talking out of both sides of its mouth: Some days, it argues that medical malpractice lawsuits are increasing the cost of health care; other days, preventive medicine aimed at avoiding lawsuits is responsible for increasing costs. Putting profits before safety, the industry is advocating for artificial procedural limits to a patient’s right to hold a health care provider responsible for careless errors. And at the end of the day, it is the victim of medical malpractice who suffers both the physical burden of the doctor’s mistake and the legal injustice of tort reform.

I, for one, believe it is better to be safe than sorry. If practicing “defensive medicine” saves lives, the cost is justified.

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  1. Mark Bello says:
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    Dave: Someone would have to define “defensive medicine” for me as anything but “fraud”. If doctors claim to be doing “unnecessary” tests and billing health insurance carriers, they are committing fraud. If a test is done; it must be necessary or it wouldn’t be approved for payment, correct? The so-called practice of “defensive medicine” is a charade to further the interests of the tort reformers and to portray (as usual) the patients and their lawyers as the “bad guys” who “drive up the cost of medicine”. Any doctor who performs an unnecessary test need only look in the mirror to find the cause of this problem. Regards, Mark