Tort Reform Is Not Synonymous With Cost Control

Memes are ideas or beliefs that spread through a culture. They carry cultural ideas and practices through every form of communication. The problem with memes is sometimes the information is simply wrong. In a Washington Post blog, Dr. Aaron Carroll took it upon himself to address the misinformation most people accept as truth: tort reform = cost control.

Carroll starts by summarizing the argument most often made for tort reform. Basically politicians assume that fewer people would seek a medical malpractice lawyer and file suit if there was an upper limit on what damages they could win. According to their arguments, this would lower malpractice insurance premiums, doctors would stop practicing “defensive medicine” (running unnecessary tests to protect themselves) and thereby reduce health-care spending. With defensive medicine costing $47 billion annually, if tort reform worked the way the meme says it will, health-care spending could be reduced.

But Carroll does not just accept those figures as true and instead looks at real-life examples of tort reform. Texas has a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages for malpractice lawsuits, which was established in 2003. Since then, Medicare spending in the state has risen more rapidly than the national average, indicating a less-than-successful attempt at reducing spending. In this case, tort reform has failed.

Another study indicated that tort reform might reduce malpractice insurance premiums by 10%. However, this would only translate to a 0.1% reduction in health-care spending. Researchers arrived at these figures by examining how doctors practice in various locations with different insurance premiums.

The tort reform = cost control meme is simply not true. There is no miracle cure for human diseases and there is no silver bullet for rising health-care costs. It would just further hurt those who have already needlessly suffered.


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