Low Costs of Defensive Medicine, Small Savings from Tort Reform

Health Affairs
Vol. 29, No. 9
September 2010
Thomas, J.W., Ziller, E.C., and D.A. Thayer
pp. 1578-1584

This paper presents the costs of defensive medicine in thirty-five clinical specialties to determine whether malpractice liability reforms would greatly reduce health care costs. Defensive medicine includes tests and procedures ordered by physicians principally to reduce perceived threats of medical malpractice liability. The practice is commonly assumed to increase health care costs. The results of studies of the costs of defensive medicine have been inconsistent. Researchers found that estimated savings resulting from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums would be less than 1 percent of total medical care costs in every specialty. These savings are lower than most previous estimates, and they suggest that the presumed impact of tort reform on health care costs may be overstated.

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