Threat of Malpractice Lawsuits Not The Real Reason for Rising Health Care Costs
At the recent medical conference “Avoiding Avoidable Care” held in Cambridge, MA, one panel seemed incongruous with commonly held beliefs about rising medical costs. During the panel, speakers and audience members seemed to agree that medical malpractice is not the main reason for the increasing cost of medical care.
It is often argued that doctors who resort to defensive medicine, the practice of ordering unnecessary tests and procedures in order to avoid potential lawsuits, is one of the main reasons why health insurance and medical care is so expensive. Boston.com reports that economist Amitabh Chandra presented facts about the real breakdown in medical care costs. The US averages $46 billion a year on defensive medicine and “reducing the threat of litigation.” However, this only accounts for 1.8 percent of the $2.5 trillion spent annually on heath care. When discussing the idea of overhauling the American malpractice system he said, “it’s not clear to me that this is really going to be the thing that changes the cost curve.”
Professor of emergency medicine at both the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, Dr. Jerome Hoffman, agreed. He argued that while the threat of a medical malpractice lawsuit has increased over the years during which he has been practicing, doctors behaviors have remained unchanged. It is not the fear of a lawsuit that drives physicians to perform defensive medicine, but a cultural fear of being blamed for something that goes wrong.
Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist and professor for the University of California, San Francisco and the editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine, went so far as to call the medical malpractice issue a smoke screen used to cover up the real concerns. She argued, “doctors must tackle cultural norms that hold that it is better for someone to die as a result of a doctor doing something than to die from not doing something.”