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.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.