Lexington Herald-Leader and other sources confirm that tort "reform" doesn't cut health costs and fails to address "the leading cause of accidental death in America"
In an editorial written on August 16, 2009, the Herald-Leader, obviously a disinterested observer, pointed out that tort "reform" is a red herrring in the current conversation over health care costs. That is, malpractice recoveries and "defensive medicine" are a literal drop-in-the-bucket compared to the overwhelming cost of medical care. The paper pointed to Texas and other states where malpractice caps and reforms in 2003 did not significantly slow the exorbitant rise in health care spending.
The Herald-Leader also noted that a recent article in the New Yorker written by a practicing surgeon who visited McAllen, Texas, had concluded that the cost of medical care was driven by "fee-for-service" medical care----not frivolous malpractice claims or defensive medicine. It cited a Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy study documenting a 24 percent increase in health care spending AFTER punitive damages were capped at $250,000.00, along with a University of Alabama study showing that damage caps in 27 states resulted in NO SAVINGS for health care consumers.
Frankly, trial lawyers and malpractice victims just happen to be an attractive "whipping boy" for unscrupulous politicians and financial interests who don't want to lose their spot at the public trough. As the Houston Chronicle reported on August 12, more than 98,000 people lose their lives each year in the United States as a result of preventable medical errors. The system "cries out for transparency" and honesty in analysis when it costs more innocent lives than the "war on terrorism" or motor vehicle collisions combined.
The Hearst Newspapers pointed out in an August 9 article that malpractice is the leading cause of accidental death in America. It noted that the November, 1999, federal report "To Err is Human" published by the Institute of Medicine, documented the six-figure annual death rate and made a call for simple reforms which have not been widely implemented. It also noted that the AMA and the American Hospital Association spent 81 million dollars, just in 2000-2002, to fight mandatory serious error reporting. As a result, errors continue to be "buried" [a Harvard study estimated that only one in eight legitimate malpractice victims actually file suit]; consumers aren't allowed access to information that would inform their health care provider choices; and health care providers do not profit from a thorough understanding of the causes and natural course of certain common errors or avoidable maloccurrences.
As if it were designed to corroborate the surgeon's analysis of health care costs in McAllen, Texas, on August 12, the Washington Post published an article detailing the enormous cost of "leave no dollar on the table" fee-for-service medical care. It identified a urology practice in Iowa that ordered only 17 CT scans, total, in August and September of 2005, but averaged over 40 per month the following three months---after purchasing a CT scan that it could bill from its own practice. In seven months, the urologists ordered scans at a rate that increased 700 percent. In another example, the Post noted that from 2000 to 2006, cardiologists have increased their Medicare revenue resulting from in-office scans from 23 percent of their total income to 36 percent.
A Standford University study demonstrated that each new MRI scanner results in 733 additional procedures in that region, and each new CT scanner will cause 2224 additional scans to be performed. GE Healthcare even touts its equipment to doctors as a means of improving their bottom line.
This is not just a money-issue, given that the federal government and academics believe that one percent of all cancers in the U.S. are caused by medical imaging. Maryland is the only state that bans such "self-referrals," (which are routinely considered unethical in most other professions, such as the law). The 1992 Stark Law was intended to prevent this kind of self-enrichment, but an exemption for simple x-rays in the Stark Law has significantly limited its impact. Jean Mitchell, a Georgetown University professor, has estimated that as much as 25 percent of our national health care expense is incurred for needless care prompted by fee-for-service incentives.