Advocates of caps on medical malpractice damages argue, among other things, that caps would ultimately lower costs for patients and thus increase access to healthcare. However, according to new research published by Public Citizen, a national non-profit that represents consumer interests, medical malpractice caps have done nothing to lower patient’s healthcare bills.
The argument goes like this: caps will somehow discourage doctors from practicing “defensive medicine.” Defensive medicine is when a doctor, “for fear of being sued for malpractice,” orders extensive testing that racks up a patient’s bill. Fewer “unnecessary” tests are then supposed to save the patient money in insurance premiums. Leaving aside that the healthcare industry profits from such testing, providing its own motive to order tests, it is the insurance industry who profits from fewer tests (whether necessary or unnecessary). Do patients benefit as well?
Quite the opposite. Public Citizen notes that “between 2000 and 2011, the value of medical malpractice payments fell 11.9 percent while healthcare spending nearly doubled, increasing 96.7 percent (both calculations in unadjusted dollars).” Such figures “debunk claims that medical malpractice litigation is responsible for rising healthcare costs, as well as promises that patients should expect savings from litigation restrictions.” Thus, no matter how you look at the data, statutory damage caps on medical malpractice claims have failed to lower costs to patients. By painting patients and attorneys as the bogeyman behind rising healthcare costs, the insurance industry deflects attention from its own profits through increasing premiums, while simultaneously trying to discourage treatment which may save a life.