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The Myth of Medical Malpractice Causing Defensive Medicine

Most have likely heard talk about the damaging consequences of “defensive medicine.” The idea is that because of fear of being sued, doctors are ordering tests and other procedures unnecessarily. As a result, the costs for healthcare are far higher than they should be. Those making this claim argue that the solution is to limit the rights of individuals to file medical malpractice lawsuits and receive certain compensation. Of course, each individual victim of medical malpractice has nothing to do whatsoever with decision made by doctors across the country, but these proponents argue that there is no other alternative than to curtail their access to the civil justice system if we want to lower healthcare costs.

While all of this makes a clear compelling argument for insurance companies and big hospital interests seeking to enact tort reform laws, it comes with one problem: it is not exactly accurate. Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm knows that no matter what one decides about the veracity of claims about the prevalence of defensive medicine, the solution to the problem does not center on taking away basic legal rights from community members.

An article for the Americans for Insurance Reform recently discussed various studies that have examines that issue. They all essentially show one thing pretty clearly: reducing medical malpractice lawsuits will do little to cut healthcare costs. Our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys hope that more people will actually take the time to look into the research behind the claims before making choices about which policies to support or not to support. Please find a brief summary of a few major studies below:

Annenberg Center study: This 2005 effort challenged the overall claims by so many insurance companies that tort reform would save healthcare costs in a project entitled “Insurance Industry Ad Makes Fishy Claim About Lawyers.” The underlying point was that the claims of savings are dramatically overblown when actually looking at likely expenditures and costs.

General Accountability Office: The GAO conducted a research project to try to specifically figure out how widespread the problem of defensive medicine was. It involved working with physicians to get an idea of the actual work that they do because of fear of malpractice. Essentially, the effort found that there was no conclusive evidence that defensive medicine was a serious problem and, even then, no evidence suggested that it was connected to malpractice lawsuits. The final recommendation was that managed care options were necessary because, no matter the cause, doctors should not be incentivized financially to provide care that is not necessary.

Congressional Budget Office: The CBO effort from a few years ago looked very closely at all the possible effects of limits on medical malpractice lawsuits and healthcare costs. They found, unsurprisingly, that there was little connection. Even accounting for all malpractice claims, it could account, at best, for 2% of healthcare costs. Enacting tort reform laws, would change only a fraction of that already small 2%. In other words, limiting patient’s access to justice system would have so little effect on reducing costs as to be negligible.

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