Defensive medicine happens when doctors order tests not to diagnose a medical problem but to protect themselves from lawsuits. So, when doctors say 25% of the money Americans spend on health care is spent on tests that are only needed because of litigation concerns, we should pay attention.
Bioscience Valuation, a Heath care economics firm, reports that all of that spending on defensive medicine amounted to $487 billion in the United States in 2015. That’s billion with a B. It’s no surprise that the dean of one of the largest medical schools in the country once said that the most expensive tool a physician uses is a pen…because of all the unneeded tests they order.
Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t provided a remedy to this problem. The Affordable Care Act did nothing to address defensive medicine.
Over the past 20-25 years, many states have attempted to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates doctors pay by enacting various tort reform measures, but these reforms have had little impact on the primary reason physicians practice wasteful defensive medicine: the constant fear that they can be sued for virtually any reason.
It’s time for a new approach.
Five states are leading the way by developing legislation that would create a new patient compensation system. Florida, Georgia, Maine, Montana and Tennessee are considering a proposal that would create a no-blame administrative model and eliminate the broken medical malpractice litigation system which has been scaring physicians into practicing defensive medicine.
Under the proposal, an injured patient would file a claim with a panel of health care experts instead of filing a lawsuit which takes years to litigate with uncertain outcomes. If the panel of health care experts determine that a patients suffered a medical injury, the patient would be fairly, appropriately and quickly compensated. The principle is very similar to the one used to create the workers’ compensation systems used successfully throughout the United States for the past one hundred years.
With no need to fear lawsuits, doctors would no longer need to practice defensive medicine. Health care costs would start to decrease as would health insurance premiums.
At the same time, patients would fare better, too. Surveys have found that the vast number of injuries resulting from medical negligence go uncompensated. Many victims simply don’t want to drag their doctor into court to litigate a bad outcome. Despite all of the lawsuits that are filed, the adversarial system actually discourages many people from getting the justice – and the compensation – they deserve.
It’s time to try a new patient compensation system based on an administrative model that puts the patient first and removes the blame that doctors fear can ruin their reputation. A nonpartisan group based in Georgia called Patients for Fair Compensation is leading the charge for this sensible plan, and it’s working with leaders in the five states mentioned above.
Any significant reform like this is going to have opponents, and as could be expected, plaintiffs’ lawyers who make millions off the current system are leading the fight against it. However, America simply can’t afford to keep a system that is bad for doctors, bad for victims and and bad for taxpayers.
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