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Study Dispels Myth That Tort Reform Reduces Health Care Costs

Posted on behalf of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Mar 10, 2015 in Medical Malpractice

Ask a patient who has suffered a severe injury or prolonged illness due to a medical professional's errors, and they will likely tell you that having civil remedies to pursue damages helped them keep faith in justice during a tough time. Ask many American politicians, and they will try to persuade you that medical malpractice lawsuits are a major contributor to health care costs.

Economic studies have shown the opposite, including a recent study from the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. The authors of "Will Tort Reform Bend the Cost Curve? Evidence from Texas" concluded that damages caps and other restrictions imposed in Texas in 2003 did nothing to reduce the costs of defensive medicine and overall health care spending.

The study used Medicare cost data to compare health care spending in counties with high and low medical malpractice claim rates. Examining figures prior to reform and afterward, the authors found that areas with previously high rates of medical error lawsuits did not experience any reductions in health care spending relative to areas with low rates. In fact, the study unearthed some evidence that physician-directed spending on medical tests actually increased after tort reform was passed.

The authors concluded that tort reform is not an effective means of reducing the cost of health care in America, commenting that "those interested in a magic bullet that will limit the growth of health-care spending should look elsewhere." Nevertheless, tort reform initiatives have passed in dozens of states, and some federal legislators have tirelessly promoted a Congressional act that would limit a patient's right to sue in all states.

Many people think of tort reform as simply a matter of putting upper limits on damages. However, tort reform measures have limited plaintiffs' options in several states by eliminating punitive damages, by changing long-established rules of evidence in medical liability lawsuits to favor health care professionals, and by limiting attorney fees in medical malpractice cases. All of these measures have a significant negative impact on an injured person's right to redress and a law firm's ability to take on these complex cases.

Medical malpractice attorneys help clients assert and protect their legal rights, whether that means pursuing a claim in court or persuading state legislators that eliminating or limiting civil liability is not the route to high quality, affordable health care.