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Study: “Defensive Medicine” Costs, But Less Than Critics Claim

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July 31, 2018

Claims about the cost of defensive medicine due to fear of malpractice litigation have been greatly exaggerated, according to an ingenious study by two academic researchers. They compared the healthcare use “intensity” of active duty military personnel who are getting military healthcare – which is not subject to lawsuits – with the intensity of use for those same subjects after a base had closed and they had to use civilian healthcare, which is subject to lawsuits. The researchers found the costs increased in the latter setting partly because the subjects got more diagnostic tests. (The researchers also found the quality of care in the military hospital, with fewer tests, did not appear to be worse.) In terms of numbers, in the setting where the patient could sue the increased intensity of medical care – presumably a measure that correlates with cost – was about 5 percent greater than it was where patients could not sue. Critics of the current medical malpractice litigation system often claim a far higher number. Tom Price, a surgeon who was briefly President Trump’s health and human services secretary, had put the figure at 26 percent back when he was a congressman in 2010.

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