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Study: Tort Reform Does Not Deliver

When Insurance Companies Win, Consumers Lose

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An article from the October issue of the New England Journal of Medicine finds that tort reform does not have the impact on emergency room medicine that supporters guaranteed it would.

Tort reform is an idea pushed by insurance companies that claims medical malpractice lawsuits cause the costs of medical care to increase, cause doctors to stop practicing medicine, and cause a trickle-down effect that impacts every person in our country. Most of the myths of tort reform have been debunked, but insurance companies have spent tens of millions of dollars promulgating this theory, and it still resonates with many people. The myth that this study sought to confirm or reject was that doctors live in fear of lawsuits, so they order excessive tests to rule out possible medical conditions; this increase in diagnostic testing leads to more charges to the insurance company, which, in turn, causes medical care to be more expensive.

The study collected data from Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries who received medical treatment in the emergency department in 3 states where tort reform has been enacted. The authors compared patient-level outcomes—both before and after the tort reform legislation had been enacted. Unsurprisingly, the study concluded that there was no reduction in the number of times doctors ordered expensive diagnostic tests like CT and MRI in 2 of the 3 states, while the 3rd state showed only a minimal 3.6% reduction. In short, the study found legislation that “substantially changed the malpractice standard for emergency physicians in three states had little effect on the intensity of practice, as measured by imaging rates, average charges, or hospital admission rates.”

The question we must ask ourselves then is, “If medical malpractice lawsuits do not have the effects that the insurance companies claimed they do, then why are we imposing tort reform that severely restricts peoples’ right to sue when they have been injured?” As more and more states strike down caps on jury verdicts, the answer is becoming increasingly clear: There is no justification for tort reform, other than to line the insurance companies’ pockets with more money.

— Brian Snyder

Date: October 17, 2014

Medical Malpractice

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