Myths about Tort Reform’s Effect on Health Care Costs Revealed

Recent research reveals Tort Reform does not negatively effect health care costs

Those who are concerned with rising health care costs often advocate for tort reform, claiming it will make health care more affordable by reducing frivolous lawsuits. Some even claim that tort reform will increase the number of doctors in a given area, since physicians are naturally drawn to regions where they feel protected. A study performed in Texas shows there may not actually be a connection between tort reform and lowered health care costs or physician supply.

Effects of Tort Reform on Physician Supply

Researchers from law schools at the University of Illinois, University of Texas and Northwestern University collaborated on the study, which focused on Texas because of that state’s tort reform laws that were enacted in 2003. Prior to those laws, advocates for tort reform claimed doctors were leaving the Lone Star State in droves because of increased liability from practicing medicine. They asserted that tort reform was needed to keep doctors practicing inside the state. Even so, the study showed there was no correlation between the number of physicians and tort reform. You can read and download the entire research paper here.

Data from the Texas Medical Board actually showed an increase in the number of doctors applying for a Texas license; however, when adjusted to reflect the number of professionals who were actually treating patients, the number decreased slightly. Researchers were also quick to point out that an increase in license applications does not necessarily mean physicians were attracted by tort reform, as it could simply reflect an increase in the number of openings due to retirement.

Does Tort Reform result in “Defensive Medicine”?

Tort reform advocates also claim new legislation would essentially end the practice of “defensive medicine.” Defensive medicine involves ordering unnecessary tests simply to avoid a lawsuit. The LA Times reports that so-called defensive medicine actually accounts for between two to three percent of all healthcare costs, which means the savings would be minimal at best.

To test whether or not tort reform actually affects the practice of defensive medicine, researchers studied healthcare costs before and after the reform, and noted no significant decrease overall. In addition, a separate study performed by the non-profit group Public Citizen found that private insurance premiums and Medicare spending in Texas have both increased faster than the national average since tort reform was enacted.

Researchers also studied physicians in seven “high risk” counties in Texas to determine how tort reform had affected them. The idea behind this was that doctors in high-risk counties were more likely to be practicing defensive medicine prior to 2003, and would therefore be more likely to stop doing so afterwards. Interestingly enough, the study showed that more procedures were actually performed after tort reform was enacted than before.

One thing was not measured in this study, and that is the effect tort reform would have on malpractice patients when it comes to receiving a fair settlement for their injuries. Since tort reform would essentially limit the amount victims could receive, it’s possible that many people may not be justly compensated if tort reform were enacted. As a personal injury attorney, my desire is that every medical malpractice victim receives the settlement he or she deserve. If you are suffering due to medical malpractice, please contact me at 800.360.7015 for a complimentary consultation.