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Does Medical Malpractice Reform Belong In The Healthcare Debate?

What does reforming medical malpractice have to do with the current health care reform debate that is a hot topic in Washington and here in Illinois? Not much, at least according to one ranking United States Senator.

“I honestly really don’t see this as a health care issue,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). The Senator, a former Rhode Island attorney general, argues that medical malpractice is more of an “intruder” into the debate to protect insurance companies, hospitals and doctors from being accountable for their mistakes.

There is very little objective evidence that malpractice reforms, like capping damages awards, have any impact on health care costs. California, which has had caps on medical malpractice awards for more then thirty years, has not seen health care costs reduced over that time period. The argument that doctors are practicing defensive medicine by ordering expensive tests to protect themselves from litigation is equally unpersuasive. Susan Steinman, the American Association for Justice’s director of policy, argued that hospitals and doctors seek additional tests to make more money, not because of the fear of lawsuits. Defensive medicine is not nearly the issue that doctors make it out to be and is more of a red herring to distract from real problems with the health care system, she said.