Fixing malpractice is a vital part of health reform

It was gratifying to see President Obama recently acknowledge the role malpractice plays in our failing health system, as well as admitting the presence of defensive medicine.

Furthermore, The New York Times, whose editorials I’ve taken exception with in the past, wrote a reasonable opinion on the issue. As they admit, “The current medical liability system, based heavily on litigation, has a spotty record. It fails to compensate most victims of malpractice because most never file suit. When cases reach the courts, some juries do a decent job of sorting out whether there was negligence or preventable error; others are swayed to grant large damage awards based more on the severity of a patient’s injuries than on clear evidence of negligence.”

It’s good to see that the idea of fixing the malpractice system is entering the reform debate. There’s no doubt that it’s the best way to garner physician support, and with costs at the forefront, one additional way to rein in costs.

Indeed, as this recent piece in The New England Journal of Medicine writes, although “[defensive medicine] costs are notoriously difficult to estimate, and analysts disagree about the magnitude of their contribution to overall health expenditures . . . trimming even 1% of total health care spending would save around $22 billion per year — not a trivial amount, particularly in lean times.”