defensive medicine accounts for a mere fraction of healthcare costs

The cost of defensive medicine, a huge rallying cry in the healthcare debate, is relatively so small that tort reform would only save the United States about .127 percent in medical costs.

Capping a patient’s right to file suit following medical malpractice would save several hundred million dollars – but out of a multi-trillion dollar annual healthcare spend. While hundreds of millions of dollars is nothing to scoff at, in light of the whole, they do prove to be a rather small percentage of the overall healthcare spend – contrary to popular rhetoric.

Meanwhile, tort reform would save physicians about 10 percent of their current medical malpractice premium costs.

These findings are presented in an article by J. William Thomas, PHD in this month’s issue of Health Affairs. It was part of a broader discussion focusing on “Physicians’ Misperception of Malpractice Lawsuits.”

Another study presented in the same issue shows that the healthcare costs attached to medical malpractice in 2008 equaled a mere 2.4 percent of the total $2.3 trillion dollar spend. Again, researchers acknowledged that even 2.4 percent of the whole was a massive amount of money. However, it was relatively small compared to other costs and system inefficiencies.

Still, critics of the healthcare system continue to tout tort reform as a major step forward for the healthcare industry, preferring to talk in billions when the real cost extends far into the trillions.

The system could use tightening, but is tort reform the right place to be focusing legislative energy?

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