The vast majority of academic and government research has uncovered little evidence that health care providers run more tests due to liability concerns. Rather, patient safety or profit motives are the real reasons for conducting medical procedures. But despite all the evidence, much of the debate surrounding health care reform and reigning in skyrocketing costs has focused on so-called “defensive medicine.”
But today, AAJ released “The Truth About ‘Defensive Medicine,’” which clearly refutes claims that medical malpractice and overutilization of procedures, spurred by fear of lawsuits, adds significant costs to America’s health care system. The truth is that direct costs associated with medical malpractice are a tiny fraction of health care costs — the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that total spending on defending claims and compensating victims in 2007 was $7.1 billion — just 0.3% of health care costs. Any restriction on compensation to victims would thus reap negligible savings at best, as it sought to reduce what is already a fraction of costs. Despite this, propagators of the “defensive medicine” myth claim that it makes up about 10% of overall health care costs.
Fact is however, that a 2008 report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that the evidence of “defensive medicine” “is not conclusive, and whether limits on malpractice torts have an impact on the practice of medicine has been subject to some debate.” And the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that even “officials from AMA [American Medical Association] and several medical, hospital and nursing home associations…[said] that defensive medicine exists to some degree, but that it is difficult to measure.”
According to the Institute of Medicine, as many as 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors. The costs associated with these errors are thought to be as high as $29 billion annually. This does not include the number of patients, or associated costs, of those severely injured by preventable medical errors, but survive the trauma. Clouding the health care debate with myths and distortions, particularly about a malpractice system that makes up 0.3% of overall costs will do nothing to repair our nation’s ailing system.