Study: Strict Malpractice Laws Do Not Reduce Health Care Costs
Laws that make it harder to sue physicians for malpractice do not reduce hospital emergency department care costs, according a RAND Corporation study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Reuters reports.
For the study, researchers examined 3.8 million Medicare claims from 1,166 hospitals in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, three states where it is "virtually impossible" to sue for malpractice. In the states, the threshold for proving malpractice is "gross negligence," or ordering care that the physician knew would result in serious injury (Emery, Reuters, 10/15).
Researchers looked at several factors, including:
- Inpatient admission rates after ED visits; and
- The total charges for ED visits.
They then compared data from the three states with data from neighboring states that feature more lenient malpractice standards (Millman, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 10/15).
The study found that:
- Tougher limits generally did not reduce the cost or volume of ED care;
- Legal risk does not motivate physicians as much as some previously thought ("Wonkblog," Washington Post, 10/15); and
- While there was a 3.6% drop in Georgia ED charges, researchers noted that the strict malpractice laws provided "little (if any) change" in ED physicians' practice intensity.
"[The latest results] certainly [run] counter to most people's expectation[s]," said chief study author Daniel Waxman of the RAND Corporation.
Although stricter malpractice laws might not reduce costs, they can influence the number of malpractice suits, according to Reuters. For example, since Texas enacted the stricter law in 2003, malpractice suits have dropped by 60% and claims have dropped by 70%, Reuters reports (Reuters, 10/15).
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