Malpractice costs down, health care costs up

While the country is in the grip of a vast movement to limit the rights of injured citizens to go to court and seek compensation for the harm done to them by negligent health care providers, medical malpractice costs have gone down for the seventh straight year. Sadly, the reduction in medical malpractice payouts has not coincided with a reduction in medical errors. While some Florida legislators and insurance representatives would have you believe that tort reform will reduce the costs of health care, the data shows no connection between lawsuits and medical costs. The information held in the National Practitioner Data Bank is quite clear.

Health care costs have spiked, rising roughly 90 percent between 2000 and 2010. During that same period, medical malpractice payments made on behalf of negligent doctors dropped nearly 13 percent. In 2010, the amount of money paid by health care professionals for malpractice was 0.13 percent of the total national health care costs, which is the lowest percentage ever recorded by the Data Bank. Finally, the total cost of all malpractice litigation equaled 0.4 percent of health care costs, which was also the lowest number ever recorded.

Just because tort reform does not address the rising cost of health care does not mean it has had no impact. Many studies have shown that the huge drop in litigation has not changed the quality of medical care. In many cases, medical errors that lead to injury or even death are simply ignored. The difficulty of seeking justice in a court of law is so extreme that negligent, harmful medical care leads to no consequences whatsoever. Receiving medical care is more expensive than ever, but the quality of care and your ability to obtain compensation if you are harmed have not risen along with it.

Addressing the spiraling costs of medical care is an important issue. The attention given to this crisis should not obscure the facts. Injured patients should have a right to compensation for the harm they have suffered. Medical malpractice is not to blame for the rise in costs. If lawmakers want to focus on limiting malpractice costs, perhaps they should turn their attention to making hospitals safer and ensuring that doctors and other medical professionals who fail to live up to basic standards of care are held accountable.

Source: Public Citizen, “Malpractice Payments Plummeted in 2010,” 24 May 2011.