Why Tort Reform Saves Little and Endangers Patient's Health and Safety

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and prominent Conservative, requested the Congressional Budget Office review the potential health care savings associated with "tort reform". For the uninitiated, "tort reform" is code for limiting the verdicts for victims of medical malpractice.

In Maryland, we have suffered from "tort reform" for more than two decades without seeing the promised reduction in medical malpractice insurance rates. (See http://www.maryland-law.com/library/maryland-medical-malpractice-attorney.cfm

The premise is simple. Jurors sympathetic to victims of Maryland birth injuries or mistaken diagnoses, award large sums of money to the victims. This costs  the insurance industry excessive amounts of money and results in doctors engaging in "defensive medicine" which in turn increases health care costs.

This myth is routinely trotted out by doctors and the insurance industry and it has effectively reduced victims' rights in states across the country. Thus, with the push for national health care focusing on cost savings it was inevitable that Republicans and their allies would insist that "tort reform" would be a panacea.

Speculation by "tort reform" advocates on the huge savings for health care has run to the hundreds of billions of dollars. So, doubtless it was a surprise to Senator Hatch when the Congressional Budget Office determined that the savings would amount to, at maximum, one half of one percent.

Included in that dazzling one half of one percent, the actual costs of "defensive medicine", three tenths of one percent.
The other component is a savings to doctors associated with reduced medical liability premiums of two tenths of one percent. http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/106xx/doc10641/10-09-Tort_Reform.pdf

So what's the downside of tort reform? Well, for victims of medical malpractice in Maryland, it has meant twenty three years of verdicts and settlements which have provided grossly inadequate compensation. Nationwide the C.B.O. reports "imposing limits (On Medical Negligence Damages) might be expected to have a negative impact on health outcomes."

In plain language, limiting medical malpractice damages, means more wrongful death, more birth injuries and more cancer misdiagnosis. Can we really afford that?