Battle rages over malpractice litigation and medical costs

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As Congress debates health care reform, legal groups are debating the effect medical malpractice suits have on insurance and overall health care spending.

At least one group places the blame for skyrocketing medical costs on plaintiff attorneys, while other lobbying groups say litigation does not affect costs.

The Manhattan Institute, a free market think tank, says that more than $30.4 billion each year is spent on medical malpractice litigation, and that 93 percent of doctors admit they practice defensive medicine.

The report said that defensive medicine comprises at least 12 percent of the health care spending gap between the United States and other developed countries.

Some believe health-related litigation hurts consumers because it increases the cost of nursing home beds, and pharmaceutical litigation leads to drug cost increases. The report claims that lawsuits drove the polio vaccination price up 600 percent.

The report also claims that the lack of tort reform can be placed at the doorstep of a single organization: The American Association for Justice. The lobbying organization for trail attorneys is the second largest donor to Democratic candidates.

But AAJ officials say Congressional Budget Office numbers show there is no correlation between ever-rising health care costs and medical malpractice. CBO estimates that tort reform would only provide 0.5 percent savings.

“Indeed the CBO itself raised concerns that limiting patients’ legal rights could further jeopardize patient safety,” said AAJ president Anthony Tarricone. “… It states, ‘recent research has found that tort reform may adversely effect (health) outcomes.”

Medical malpractice claims make up just 0.3 percent of total health care costs, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tarricone said.

“We are confident that after weighing the totality of research on the subject, the public and Congress will see the truth: limiting patients’ legal rights will do nothing to fix what ails our nation’s health care system.”