Tort Reform: Not the Fix for Health Care System

In an effort to shift the blame for our country’s health care crisis away from private insurers and onto the legal system, proponents of tort reform say there are three reasons for the surge in health care expenses:

  • defensive medicine
  • frivolous lawsuits
  • high malpractice insurance premiums driving doctors out of business

The Truth of the Matter:

Defensive Medicine Does Not Increase Health Care Costs

A 2004 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), reviewed studies claiming tort reform reduced health care costs. The CBO proceeded to conduct their own analysis, finding no evidence that restrictions on tort liability reduced medical spending. Their analysis also found no difference in health care spending per capita between states with or without limits on malpractice awards. Another study concluded that there was not a significant reduction in payments for Medicare-covered services in states that adopted tort reform.

Frivolous Lawsuits Are Not Responsible for Increased Costs

A 2006 study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital debunks the view that frivolous litigation is widespread and expensive. The authors reviewed 1,452 closed claims from five malpractice insurance companies across the U.S. Their findings appeared in the May 11, 2006 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

  • The reviewers found that nearly all the claims involved a treatment-related injury.
  • More than 90% involved a physical injury, which was usually severe (80% resulted in significant or major disability, 26% resulted in death).
  • The reviewers deemed that 63% of the injuries were due to error.
  • Out of the remaining 37%, though they lacked evidence of error some were close calls.
  • Nearly three-fourths of the claims (72%) that did not involve error did not receive compensation.
  • Among claims that involved medical error, 73% received compensation.

“Overall, the malpractice system appears to be getting it right about three quarters of the time,” said lead author David Studdert. According to the CBO, the frequency of malpractice suits per capita, nationally, were static at approximately 15 claims per 100 physicians per year for a 10 year period, from mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. A similar report from the National Center for State Courts, shows that the number of cases actually decreased by 8% between 1996 – 2006. This does not support the claim of rampant increase in “frivolous lawsuits”.

Doctors Are Not Leaving Practice Because of Insurance Premiums

According to data compiled by the AMA, the number of practicing physicians has been rising steadily for decades in the U.S. Furthermore, the number of physicians increased faster than the population growth in 46 states. In the remaining four states where the number of physicians increased slower than the population growth, these states have medical malpractice caps.

In closing, statistics DO NOT support tort reform. Tort reformers fail to see that medical malpractice reform will not saves lives. It is up to the insurers, doctors, and the medical industry to find ways to improve patient safety through more stringent protocols and accountability.

This information is provided as a service of TSR Injury Law, a leading personal injury law firm serving Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the state of Minnesota. Our partners have decades of experience handling complex medical cases, including traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, and medical malpractice cases. Call 612-TSR-TIME to schedule a free consultation or submit our contact form.