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Maybe you’ve heard the claims of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has estimated that reforming our medical malpractice system could save the country $55 billion over 10 years.

Saving money is one of the major reasons tort reformers say they’re pushing for it. But how much money is $55 billion over 10 years really? Less than one half of one percent of all the country’s health care costs, that’s how much. To put that number in perspective, if you already pay $10,000.00 a year for health care, tort reform might shave off about $45.

And this $45 has a dark side. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 98,000 people are dying every year in this country from preventable medical errors, and countless others are injured. As it stands now, when patients are injured by doctor negligence, they have at least some recourse in medical malpractice lawsuits. Taking away patients’ rights in this regard will certainly not make doctors more vigilant (if anything, it might have the opposite effect)—and yet vigilance is exactly what we need so that patients aren’t injured in the first place. Why spend so much energy trying to limit patients’ rights when we could be putting real, practical measures in place to ensure patient safety?

Apart from this, the GOP has already said again and again that it won’t vote for any health care reform bill no matter what kind of tort reform it includes. Republicans claim that it’s because they want to start a new bill over from scratch, but all they’ve ever really wanted in this debate is to see Obama fail. No matter how bipartisan this bill becomes, no matter how much the Democrats allow it to be nitpicked and compromised and emasculated, the simple fact that Obama wanted it to begin with will make them hate it forever.

I say that at some point, you have to stop holding out olive branches to people who are bound to see everything in your hands as sour grapes. With its promise of almost zero cost savings coupled with the systematic destruction of patients’ rights and safety, tort reform makes a lousy olive branch anyway.


  1. Gravatar for Facebook User

    Thanks for pointing this out. Someone has to stand for the victims. The insurance industry is going crazy over the House repeal of the McCarren-Ferguson Act. If they lose their anti-trust immunity, the consumers will benefit. Doctors spend too much time fighting insurance companies. They need to go back to being doctors.

  2. Gravatar for dr oliver

    You're actually wrong. Exactly how much we're talking about is somewhat hard to nail down, as discussed by the CBO and others, The estimates for potential savings are actually quite a bit higher, as much as $250B over a decade on the high end, which suddenly becomes real money when you're trying to bend the cost curve. The effect of potential large damages has an insidious multiplier effect on both doctor's practices and rates required by insurers to hedge that risk. It is a uniquely perveted American perversion of torts that 50%+ of awards on these cases is skimmed off the top for attorney fees and expenses. Dramatically restricting this element is going to have to be part of this health care reform process.

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