For the last couple of decades numerous politicians have seized on the tragedy of ever increasing medical costs as an excuse to gut our civil justice system. In the name of so-called “tort reform” law-makers have stripped both judges and juries of their rights to determine what proper compensation is in medical malpractice cases,and in some states they have set nearly insurmountable burdens on proving malpractice. In doing so, these legislatures have stripped individual patients who have been injured by negligent medical professionals of their constitutional rights. They sold the public on tort reform by claiming that lawsuits were driving up medical costs and that the only way any of us could afford medical care in the future would be to gut medical malpractice law. And in many states, that is what happened. But, as we predicted, it turns out that tort reform has not driven down medical costs at all.
Study Shows Tort Reform Did Not Decrease Costs
A new study in The New England Journal of Medicine addresses the effects of tort reform on costs of emergency care. The study dealt specifically with policies in states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina that raised the standard of care for emergency room medical malpractice to gross negligence. This standard is one of the reasons why the hospital in Texas that released a patient with Ebola despite knowing he had recently been in an Ebola plagued country will likely not be held responsible for its foolish and dangerous actions.
The study tested the theory spouted by many tort-reform supporters that emergency room physicians are so terrified of medical malpractice suits that they order unnecessary tests resulting in wasteful spending. The researchers compared the treatment in the emergency room tort-reform states to the treatments in neighboring states that had not enacted such laws, and found that there was no detectable difference. Expensive tests like CT scans and MRIs were ordered just as frequently in states like Texas as they were in states that did not enact such laws. The researchers looked at 3 million Medicare claims to determine three things: how often ER doctors ordered advanced imaging studies, the rate of inpatient admissions following ER visits, and total charges for ER visits.
Washington Post Report
The Washington Post also did a report on the efficacy of tort-reform in decreasing medical costs. Citing the study, they reported that doctors “are less motivated by legal risk than they themselves believe,” which casts doubt “on the level of savings that could be achieved through medical malpractice reform.” They also cited other recent studies that show that only thirteen percent of hospital costs can be even partially attributed to “defensive medicine”–the practice of ordering unnecessary treatment to prevent lawsuits. Finally, a Journal of the American Medical Association study showed that “completely defensive hospital orders accounted for just 2.9 percent of costs.”
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