On the policy, “defensive medicine” now consumes 4 percent to 9 percent of the nation’s total health care spending. That translates to between roughly $92 billion and $207 billion annually that is wasted on unnecessary tests and procedures that doctors perform simply to avoid the threat of a lawsuit.
Eliminating just half of this waste would be enough to cover all uninsured Americans.
By contrast, there is little about the current medical malpractice system that works. Only 2 percent of people injured by medical errors file a claim for compensation. The few winners must wait three to five years to see the money. More than half of it is siphoned off to attorney fees and court costs.
Democrats, however, often raise one major objection: caps on awards to injured patients. But they need not, nor should they, support this conservative idea as studies show that caps do little to reduce defensive medicine in the states where they have been enacted, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Instead, Democrats should propose a health court, which can serve as the backbone for fundamental malpractice reform. A health court is a specialized system of courts similar to the workers’ compensation system that would handle only medical malpractice cases. Injured patients would simply fill out a form to receive compensation for common injuries. Disputes would be quickly handled in an administrative court run by medical experts, who would ensure that the same standards of practice are applied to all similarly situated patients. They would be able to reach many more patients who are deserving of compensation. And like workers’ compensation, the rewards would be fair and predictable.