Policy-ish

Malpractice Reform Would Trim $11 Billion From Health Spending

Now we have the official number for how much reforming the nation's medical malpractice system could save: $11 billion this year.

A stethoscope, gavel and scale of justice. i i

Is 0.5% of health spending a lot or a little? iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com
A stethoscope, gavel and scale of justice.

Is 0.5% of health spending a lot or a little?

iStockphoto.com

How you see the estimate, just issued by the Congressional Budget Office, is something altogether different.

Aha! say the advocates of caps on malpractice and other measures to rein in suits against doctors. That $11 billion is real money. And there's the $54 billion in deficit reduction over a decade, the CBO estimates."That's not chump change," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said in a statement. "It's a no-brainer to include tort reform in any health care reform legislation."

The CBO acknowledges the estimate this time around reflects not only the toll of malpractice insurance but also the costs of defensive medicine. As CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf notes on his blog, "recent research has provided additional evidence to suggest that lowering the cost of medical malpractice tends to reduce the use of health care services."

But the plaintiffs bar say hold on just a minute, Sen. Grassley. To the country, $11 billion is chump change. "Medical malpractice claims have almost no effect on overall health care spending," American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone said in a statement. The CBO analysis shows that in the end "tort reform would provide a paltry 0.5 percent savings, while putting patients at risk."

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