Think of politicians who asseverate about “limited government” but really want a crushing and stifling government to benefit themselves and their friends. They utter all the shibboleths of big-government-is-bad and, yes, they might manage an exiguous tax cut once in a while, but invariably most of what they ever accomplish is to keep the wheels greased for their corporate friends who will hire them when they leave office. “Tort reform” is a case in point.
The very name suggests that the tort system is broken. But for tort reform, the limited-government types tell us, we wouldn’t have nearly so expensive a healthcare system. What with all the runaway juries and doctors who must practice “defensive medicine,” one of my local Congressmen, Tom Price, recently claimed “lawsuit abuse” costs “an astounding $650 billion a year…[or]…26 percent of annual health care dollars.” I wish he had said where he got that estimate…the mouth of hell?
Professor Michelle Mello, of the Harvard School of Public Health, just released a statistical study of the costs of medical malpractice in America. She estimates that in 2008, the cost of medical malpractice, including defensive medicine, was 2.4 percent of total healthcare spending, or $55.6 billion dollars. The good Dr. Price is off by a decimal point! In a companion study by Professor J. William Thomas, of the University of Southern Maine, the estimated savings resulting from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums would be less than 1 percent of total medical care costs in every specialty. Personally, I never saw a dime’s reduction in the medical malpractice premiums I paid from Georgia’s vaunted tort reform of 2005 until the day I closed my medical practice in May of this year.
Certainly, $55.6 billion is not a trivial cost. Many will ask whether this cost of making malpractice victims whole is worth it to society. (I would respond that the question is irrelevant and unjust but that the answer is, certainly it is worth it. A man’s liberty depends on his own body and liberty should have no easy price tag.) But, I hope the ultimate result of these two studies is that at least I won’t have to hear another politician blubber on about tort reform. Fat chance.
Oh, and don’t think I’m in love with government. I wait years sometimes to bring a case to trial because the courts are so clogged enforcing the morality of our drug laws and otherwise separating people from their liberty. If I had my druthers, we would have no government at all, but my dark thoughts on government will have to wait for another day.
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Article first published as The Gig is Up on Tort Reform on Technorati.