When an Abundance of Caution Leads to an Abundance of Cost
The New York Times recently looked into “defensive medicine,” or the practice of doctors ordering excessive medical tests in an attempt to stave off medical liability lawsuits. Testing out of an abundance of caution, many doctors believe, can potentially shield a physician from being sued in the event of an issue with a patient down the road.
But as it turns out, this understandable “CYA” by health providers is costing all of us big bucks.
The Times article points to a recent study completed by MIT and Duke that looked at medical costs in an area where medical liability suits are not allowed—veterans’ healthcare.
As the Times notes, “Under longstanding law, such patients get access to a government health care system but are barred from suing government doctors and hospitals for malpractice.”
The study found that when base closures forced veterans to use civilian healthcare providers, “healthcare spending increased, particularly on extra diagnostic tests.”
Overall, the study found that while healthcare spending increased by five percent in places where lawsuits were possible, it didn’t always lead to improved outcomes for the patients.
Of course, the impact of abusive lawsuits on the medical community is not news to Texans. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, Texas was seeing an exodus of doctors from our state because of out-of-control medical liability lawsuits. Rather than pay astronomical medical liability insurance premiums or get sued out of business, doctors were moving to other states with less onerous and more predictable legal systems.
The result brought the Lone Star State to a near crisis level, as all types of physicians—but particularly those in high-risk specialties like neurosurgery and obstetrics—were fleeing the state. This created huge barriers in access to healthcare across Texas, especially in our rural communities. To make matters worse, students who went to medical school in Texas often chose to practice in other states rather than face the threat of abusive medical liability lawsuits.
But thanks to historic reforms passed in 2003, Texas has seen an influx of doctors moving to the state. By creating a more predictable legal system, doctors can spend less time in the courtroom fighting unnecessary lawsuits and more time treating patients. At the same time, Texans can pursue legitimate cases against doctors and hospitals that cause harm through negligence or intentional misconduct.
These reforms have helped Texas attract a robust medical community, including many world-class hospitals that have been able to expand patient services and develop innovative treatment programs, as well as critical rural healthcare facilities. In fact, TLR recently caught up with some of our elected officials and asked them how lawsuit reform has impacted their districts. Many cited tort reform as the catalyst for the influx of doctors to their communities and the immense benefits of having access to healthcare for their constituents. Be sure to watch what they had to say in the video above.
ICYMI: Dr. Jackelinne Villalobos moved her obstetrics practice from New York to Texas after her skyrocketing medical liability insurance rates nearly forced her out of business—despite never having to make a lawsuit payment to a patient. Read her article for the TLR Advocate to hear about how tort reform has changed the medical landscape in the Lone Star State.