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September 9, 2010

$55 billion is ‘practically nothing’?

Earlier this week, the respected medical journal Health Affairs published a study that estimates the negative cost of America’s broken medical malpractice system at $55.6 billion a year. By any measure this is a huge number, greater than the combined 2009 budgets for the Departments of Commerce, Interior and State and the entire legislative and judicial branches. It’s also greater than the cost of 270,000 houses at the current U.S. median price for new homes.Earlier this week, the respected medical journal Health Affairs published a study that estimates the negative cost of America’s broken medical malpractice system at $55.6 billion a year. By any measure this is a huge number, greater than the combined 2009 budgets for the Departments of Commerce, Interior and State and the entire legislative and judicial branches. It’s also greater than the cost of 270,000 houses at the current U.S. median price for new homes. In fact, the $556 billion projected ten-year cost of medical malpractice is equal to more than 50% of the total $940 billion cost of President Obama’s new health care law over the same period!

Most Americans realize the defects of the current medical malpractice system and support reform. But in the bizarre universe of Washington, the trial lawyers’ lobbyist group thinks $55 billion is chump change. In a recent blog post from The Hill, this group amazingly claims that reforming medical malpractice “will do practically nothing to lower health care costs.”

The American people know this claim is ridiculous.  They understand that the fear of lawsuits drives doctors to practice defensive medicine, which increases health care costs for everyone.  In fact, according to a Massachusetts Medical Society study, the practice of defensive medicine is so widespread that 80 percent of doctors routinely order extra tests to try to avoid being sued, which adds billions of dollars to our nation’s health care costs. 

While six in ten Americans called for the inclusion of meaningful medical malpractice reform in the health care bill, Congressional leaders ignored their voices.  When Congress revisits this issue in the future, they should listen to average voters who want solutions that will decrease costs for physicians and patients, not Washington trial lawyers who see $55 billion as chump change.

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