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So far critics have mostly focused on tearing apart health care reform by portraying it as “socialist” or as a “Nazi” agenda with a federal government “death panel” that will dictate how long senior citizens get to live. But now, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and ideological conservatives are adding a new complaint to the mix: that medical malpractice claims are out of control and are a major source of rising health care costs. However, health economists and independent legal experts who study the issue don’t agree. Instead, they say that malpractice liability costs are merely a small fraction of the escalating cost of the U.S. health care system. To the contrary, health economists and independent legal experts also state that the medical errors that malpractice liability tries to prevent are themselves a huge cost—to injured patients and to the health care system.

Tort reformers like to argue that fear of lawsuits forces doctors to practice “defensive medicine”, which then adds billions of dollars to the cost of health care each year. In fact, a 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office said that medical malpractice claims constitute less than 2% of U.S. health spending. Furthermore, one could also argue that the current fee-for-service structure of the health care system adds incentive for doctors to order unnecessary tests and increase their profits.

Instead, tort reform is another scapegoat for health care reform critics. Not only does focusing on the legal system as the “cause” of increasing health care costs distract from the true problem, it also ignores the larger issue that as many as 98,000 people die every year because of medical errors. If instances of medical negligence decreased, so to would the number of injured patients seeking legal recourse.


  1. Gravatar for Mike Bryant

    Clearly, they went back to the old Bush/Rove attack the lawyers offensive last week, although less facts and reality hopefully, makes the frivolous tort reform talk less affective. The message needs to keep getting out.

  2. Gravatar for johare

    What are your thoughts on joint and several liability? Should that be changed in those states that have it. How about a Loser pays costs if the case is tried to conclusion ? How about minimun standards to be a juror, in an effort of obttaining a jury of semi peers for the physicians. Re a cap for pain and suffering: as a med mal claims guy I think that $250k is light.

    How about a multiplier of 2x economics for instance. The limit cant be infinity - realistically. You know that - Right? There needs to be some ruler measuring subjectivity by objective mean$.

    Connecting tort reform to the healthcare reforms is a remote correlation. People dont smoke just to keep ashtrays full!! regards Jim

    How about that for a start at federal tort reform?

  3. Gravatar for herewegoagain

    Why do the proponents of so-called tort "reform" position this idea as if it's yet to be enacted. Many states have enacted it over the years and not a shred of evidence exists that it lowers health insurance premiums - because it hasn't. Texas is a perfect example. Six years ago it put all sorts of caps on medical malpractice verdicts. And today, Texas leads the country in number of uninsured. Further, health insurance premiums have continued to rise in Texas every year, just like they have in every other state.

    On the other hand, if a doctor screws up and cripples you for life, his or her insurance company now only has to pay you a fraction of what they did before tort "reform" was enacted. You better hope you'll be well enough to work again one day, because whatever you win surely won't tide you over for life, no matter how badly you're crippled.

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