Data in Policy Debate: Medical Malpractice and Defensive Medicine

Medical malpractice insurance in the US is often considered a problem that needs to change to help Americans pay less for healthcare services. The Affordable Healthcare Act didn’t have any medical malpractice tort reform as part of the bill, something CNN calls a “glaring omission.”

We decided to look at the oft-considered largest category of cost to the consumer--”defensive medicine”--and came across some very interesting results! This will be the first in a series of posts in which we explore the impact on policy debate of different approaches to the data.

Very Different Study Results

Estimates for the total cost of defensive medicine in the US vary wildly. A Jackson Healthcare study, echoed by Forbes and other news outlets, cites anywhere from $650 billion to $850 billion spent per year, which would be about 1 in 4 total healthcare dollars spent.

The Harvard School of Public Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield both did their own studies, coming up with numbers of around $50 billion, putting it closer to 2%.

Something to consider: let’s assume that both Jackson Healthcare and Harvard are smart and relatively unbiased.

How much of a priority do you think tort reform should be in the context of one of these studies, or the other? Do they make a difference?

What do these differences in data mean for someone’s ability to push an agenda, be they in the media, at a think tank, or in politics?


Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.