A recent report by the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen has found that claims that “defensive medicine” is pushing up the cost of health care significantly are unfounded.
In its defensive medicine study (pdf), Public Citizen looked at persistent claims that doctors are conducting unnecessary tests and procedures in order to shield themselves from financially damaging medical malpractice lawsuits. The organization concluded that the cost and frequency of defensive medicine has been overblown by the use of bad science and spun to push a tort reform agenda that is unlikely to significantly lower health care costs.
According to the report, which looked at a number of published studies that used evidence-based techniques, the impact of defensive medicine is minimal and only accounts for 0.13% of overall healthcare costs. The study found that the cost of malpractice litigation has actually been declining while the cost of health care increases, and the costs of diagnostic testing of all kind, which is a cornerstone of defensive medicine claims, is only a very small portion of healthcare spending across the U.S.
In many cases, doctors who claimed to be conducting defensive medicine are actually receiving financial incentives to order more tests. Researchers also determined that only 8% of doctors who practiced high-risk specialties actually said they would choose to perform defensive medicine in high-risk situations.
Out of six different studies conducted since 1989, five determined that there was no correlation between the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits and health care costs, the report states. It also noted that a 2006 Congressional Budget Office report determined that tort reform laws already in existence appeared to have no effect on health care costs.
The report comes as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing for the passage of the Help Efficient Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011. The bill, H.R. 5, would give private citizens only a year to file a lawsuit after being injured, even if the cause of the injury is unknown. It would override jury authority to determine awards and cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 nationwide. The bill would also outlaw punitive damages for any product approved by the FDA.
According to Public Citizen, the proposed tort reform bill would effectively outlaw private citizens from suing doctors, hospitals, drug manufacturers, nursing homes and medical device manufacturers when they are injured or even killed due to negligence or medical malpractice.