On Oct. 9, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that an array of changes in the tort system could save about 0.5 percent, or $11 billion in 2009, in national health care spending. Over the next 10 years, the changes could reduce the federal deficit by $54 billion, the office said. But this year alone, that deficit is projected at $1.75 trillion.
This is the first time the agency has put a cost on defensive medicine, when doctors feel compelled to order extra tests, hoping to ensure they aren't sued later. The agency calculated about 60 percent of the savings - or $32.4 billion - would be from the "slightly less" use of health services.
But Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a consumer group in Manhattan, said the agency's findings didn't match "the rhetoric" from tort-reform advocates and would have little impact on reducing the more than $2 trillion spent each year on health care.
Looking at alternatives to lower costs makes sense, said Ed Amsler, vice president of Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company, the state's largest medical malpractice insurer. In close to 70 percent of its malpractice lawsuits, the company paid nothing to the plaintiff last year, he said, either because the cases were dropped or a jury found in the doctor's favor. Yet each case cost the company $30,000 to $40,000 in attorneys' fees, he said.
In the other 30 percent of cases, the company's average payout was $511,000 last year, up from $456,000 in 2004. This increase drives doctors' premiums higher, he said - though in New York the legislature has held premiums steady since they rose 14 percent in 2007.
Yet a recent report by Americans for Insurance Reform, a coalition of patient rights groups, found no correlation between states that had instituted some malpractice liability limits and how much money doctors paid in premiums. Instead, the report found spikes in premiums were related to the economic cycle of insurers and drops in investment income.
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