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The Basis for Tort Reform

The real victims of the current medico-legal system are the American people. (And don't miss Part I and Part II of the tort reform segment of Dr. Weiss's Medically Incorrect series on PJTV.)

by
Dr. Peter Weiss

Bio

March 2, 2010 - 12:00 am
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It is also estimated that 1.5 to 2 % of all cancers in the U.S. in the next few decades may be attributed to radiation from CAT scan studies.

It has been argued that the actual cost of medically unnecessary (but legally warranted) defensive medicine takes up to 9% of  total health care spending. Others place that figure as high as 25%; most physicians tend to believe the latter. Our congressional leaders and the president claim that it is much lower than even the 9%. The problem is that the true costs have been so co-mingled into standards of practice that we may never know the true number.

The frightening thing is that if we use the 9% figure, then 198 billion dollars is wasted each year. If we use the 25% figure, 550 billion dollars is flushed down the toilet.

Let’s get back to the true cost and what a victim of malpractice can expect. Approximately 12.1 billion dollars is awarded to plaintiffs each year. Approximately 40% goes to the plaintiffs’ attorneys or court costs, leaving 7.2 billion dollars to the victims. If we then look at actual health care expenditures each year and use the 9% figure of defensive medicine and documentation, then $26 is being spent for every single dollar that actually reaches the malpractice victim. If we use the 25% figure, then $72 is thrown away for a single dollar to go to the victim. The truth is somewhere in between. I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions about the motives for the trial lawyers fighting against any true tort reform.

Unless we get real tort reform, nothing Congress does will help curtail the runaway costs of medicine. We must decouple malpractice determinations from malpractice awards. There are many ways to do this, but this will be fought tooth and nail by the trial lawyers association. Physicians should adjudicate with lawyers and judges overseeing. If lawyers can oversee lawyers, then physicians can surely oversee other physicians. The British system is also an acceptable manner to deal with malpractice cases. Loser pays the court costs.

The bottom line is that the real victims of the current medico-legal system are the American people, and its time to play Howard Beale and say: “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”

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Peter Weiss M.D., F.A.C.O.G., is Director and Founder of The Rodeo Drive Women's Health Center. He is also Assistant Clinical Professor of OB/GYN at The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He was health care adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign. Dr Weiss is an Attending physician at Cedars Sinai and St Johns Health Centers
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