Trial lawyers and their clients have been roundly criticized in recent years for driving the costs of medical care through the roof. Insurance companies perpetually lobby state and federal politicians for tort reform as a mechanism for containing insurance and health care costs even though they refuse to produce real numbers to substantiate their claims that insurance is becoming unaffordable due to malpractice claims. A new study published in the September issue of Health Affairs sheds some interesting light on the real cause of increasing health care costs and it’s not claims brought by trial lawyers for their clients.
Researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have calculated that $55.6 billion is the annual “cost” of malpractice in the United States. Interestingly, this amount represents only 2.4 percent of overall health care spending in the United States and includes approximately $45.6 billion in what the researchers call “defensive medicine,” i.e., those tests and procedures ordered by health care providers allegedly out of fear for being sued. In other words, 82 percent of the” costs” of medical malpractice represents what physicians claim is otherwise unnecessary tests and procedures ordered only out of a fear for being sued.
Although it’s very easy for the medical community to cast blame on those who pursue malpractice claims, it is difficult to accept their contention that 82 percent of the overall cost of malpractice is attributable to completely unnecessary procedures and tests. Notwithstanding the lofty “do no harm” careers these medical professionals have selected, the fact remains that most physicians earn the highest incomes of any profession in the country because they are in business to make a profit with “customers” who will do and spend anything to remain alive. This means that tests will be ordered, procedures will be performed, and equipment will be purchased for the good of the patient and for the physician’s bottom line and not simply out of fear for being sued.
One wonders the mechanism by which the Harvard researchers were able to discern the accuracy of accounts that medical care was defensive and wholly unnecessary. It seems claims of defensive medicine are an easy excuse for physicians who are uncertain over their own diagnoses.
In the end, the Harvard study confirms that defensive medicine represents a very small percentage of the overall health care costs in the United States (2.4 percent) and that malpractice litigation and claims payouts are a much smaller and a very trivial fraction of that amount.
If you or a loved one have been the victim of medical malpractice, contact the lawyers at Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz. We will conduct a thorough evaluation of your case, find out what mistakes were made, and work tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve.