Reader Question – Won't tort reform fix health care?

Another question I’m getting more and more:

Why don’t you support tort reform?  The cost of malpractice is the true unspoken cost of health care.  Why can’t [President] Obama admit that trial lawyers are the reason health care costs are so high in this country!!!!!

OK.  Never let it be said the cost of malpractice is an “unspoken cost”. Everyone knows it’s a big issue. I think so, the AMA thinks so, and I bet even the administration thinks so. My center has done work on this issue and we have a study specifically focusing on negligent claims that we hope to publish soon.

That said, good estimates – MANY studies – have been done to look at the costs of defensive medicine.  Estimates range from the tens of billions of dollars to about $200 billion.  For the sake of argument, let’s say $100 billion is a good estimate. We can lose sight of the fact that $100 billion is a LOT of money. That’s an enormous sum. It’s just dwarfed by the more than $2 trillion we’re spending on health care every year.

And here’s the more important thing. Malpractice reform will not contain health care costs. Even if I’m low-balling it, and it costs$200 billion, that’s less than 10% of spending if we got rid of it entirely. Health care costs would still go up at an insane rate, people would still be uninsured, more would be underinsured, and nothing would change for the future.

We need to fix the malpractice system. We do. Even President Obama said so to the AMA. And we should pursue it.  But it’s not the same issue as health care reform, and we shouldn’t confuse the two, or neither will get the focus it deserves.

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