Yesterday the New York Times carried an editorial discussing solutions to the high cost of health care. In outlining the causes of the problem it referenced one issue that is often quoted as a major cause of high health care costs: an abundance of medical malpractice litigation that either is frivolous or leads to doctors and hospitals carrying out scads of unnecessary tests and procedures. I was glad to see the Times characterize this supposed cause of costly medical treatment as what it is: a myth.
In fact, as the editorial points out and as has been demonstrated from many studies over many years, the causes of our rapidly inflating medical costs are numerous, complex and inter-related. But if you are trying to contain those increasing costs, pulling out the old "tort reform" scapegoat as a reason to impose some other new and creative way to restrict compensation for people who have been injured by medical malpractice does little to solve the problem.
I live in a state that put in place in the 1980s just about every type of "tort reform" mechanism for medical malpractice that is being proposed at the federal level. Nevertheless, the hue and cry about the need for even more restrictions on people's access to the civil justice system continues unabated in my state. Yet there is no credible evidence to suggest that any reforms in the past have had any impact on rising medical costs. I have never heard any tort reform advocates claim that the rate of healthcare inflation in Utah is lower than anywhere else in the country.