A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the cost of rising malpractice premiums is not a major contributing factor in affecting the delivery of care to patients. To the contrary, they found weak evidence that physicians are either not entering the field or retiring early due to rising medical malpractice premiums. In other words, the politicians’ claims that we need tort reform to keep doctors from leaving practice is dubious at best. The strongest evidence the study found for malpractice premiums affecting availability of care is the affect of rising premiums on rural doctors. Their study showed that a 10% rise in premiums results in a 1% decrease in rural physicians. That could be a problem, but who is to blame? The victims of the malpractice or the negligent doctor?
Let’s discuss for a moment the quality of care. The shocking study released by Johns Hopkins University in December 2012 indicated that “never event” medical errors, such as leaving a foreign object like a sponge or towel inside the patient body after an operation occurs 39 times a week; performing the wrong procedure on a patient occurs 39 times a week; and, operations to the wrong side of the patient’s body occurs 20 times a week. These add up to more than 4,000 errors yearly. (The researchers also believe their numbers are on the low side.) There’s a reason why $1.3 billion has been paid in medical malpractice premiums over the past 20 years, but it is not because of lawsuits. The total cost of lawsuits in US’ medical care is less than 2%. In other words, if we eliminated all malpractice suits, we’d save 2% on our total medical care costs. It’s always been the case that compensation to medical malpractice victims is small compared to the total bill. The principle reason for having compensation to victims is so that the wrongdoers will change their behavior. This correction mechanism is not available if you do away with medical malpractice. And we have a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research backing this idea. If you have any questions about this blog post or other legal matters, we welcome the opportunity to answer them for you. Please feel free to contact us toll-free at (866) 281-4774 Sources: National Bureau of Economic Research, Johns Hopkins University