Medical malpractice awards and defensive medicine are often cited as the biggest cost drivers in healthcare. But a new report from the consumer watchdog group Public Citizens debunks this myth, showing that costs have continued to rise despite reductions in both the frequency and amount of malpractice payments every year for the past decade.
Even at the most expensive point, actual malpractice payments amounted to just one quarter of 1% of overall health care costs, according to the report. Between 2003 and 2012, medical malpractice payments dropped nearly 29%, whereas national health spending increased more than 58%.
Yet, there is no evidence that declines in medical malpractice payments are due to better or safer medical care. In fact, the report cites three studies from 2010-2011 that show preventable medication errors are at least as bad as those brought to light in the 1999 Institute of Medicine report “To Err is Human.”
In 2010 one out of seven Medicare patients in hospital care suffered a serious adverse event, 44% of which were preventable, and 18% of North Carolina hospital patients experienced adverse events, 63% of which were avoidable. Furthermore, errors or adverse events occurred in nearly one in three hospital admissions in 2011, according to the researchers
Malpractice reform has only served to cut back on payouts, not the number of medical errors, the report suggests.
“The divergence between healthcare costs and medical malpractice litigation affirms what critics of imposing malpractice litigation restrictions have said all along — that litigation is not to blame for rising costs or inadequate access to care,” Taylor Lincoln, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division said in a press release.