Dr. Richard Vienne of Amherst and many of his colleagues nationwide say there's one thing missing from the great debate over health care reform: any effort to ease the minds of doctors so they wouldn't keep wasting money on tests out of the fear of getting sued.
To others who have studied the liability system, though, reform would not necessarily save money.
Only 4 to 7 percent of those eligible to collect from a doctor actually ever make a malpractice claim, said Thomas E. Baker, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a book called "The Medical Malpractice Myth."
Under a reformed and easier-to-navigate system where expert panels rather than juries decided cases, far more people would file malpractice claims -- and win, Baker said.
"Even if you were paying people only a quarter of what they got under a tort claim, the system would still cost more," said Baker, a native of LeRoy, near Rochester.
What's more, the evidence from Texas, which capped liability awards at $250,000 in 2003, doesn't indicate that such a move would do much to hold down health care costs.
While lawsuits and insurance rates have plummeted in Texas, the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care found that, in the three years after that liability cap was implemented, Medicare costs in Texas increased 24 percent -- six percentage points more than the national average.
Such statistics indicate that defensive medicine is not the reason behind huge increases in medical costs, said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a nonprofit that aims to ensure that Americans are treated fairly in court.
Doctors are ordering more tests "because people are making money off of them," Doroshow said.
"It's not because of lawsuits," she said.
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