I’ve been saying this in comments and in conversation that the current pieces of health care reform legislation are not addressing the root cause – why are health care costs rising?  Much of it has to do with the litigious society we find ourselves in.  We don’t like the way a medical procedure turned out – we sue!  A loved person tragically lost life and limb… somebody has to be blamed.  Sue, sue the doctors!  Sue the hospital!

Now there are times when this is understandable and appropriate, but it has gotten out of hand.  Tort reform is needed.  Governor Sarah Palin references Dr. Stuart Weinstein who is with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons who explained this problem in his article, “The Cost of Defensive Medicine,”  Dr. Weinstein writes:

The medical liability crisis has had many unintended consequences, most notably a decrease in access to care in a growing number of states and an increase in healthcare costs.

Access is affected as physicians move their practices to states with lower liability rates and change their practice patterns to reduce or eliminate high-risk services. When one considers that half of all neurosurgeons—as well as one third of all orthopaedic surgeons, one third of all emergency physicians, and one third of all trauma surgeons—are sued each year, is it any wonder that 70 percent of emergency departments are at risk because they lack available on-call specialist coverage?

…Many now adopt an attitude that “views every patient as a potential lawsuit.”

This same attitude is also prevalent among residents. In a recent study of residents across specialties, 81 percent of responding residents said that they view every patient as a potential lawsuit. These protective, fear-of-lawsuit attitudes result in physicians adopting behaviors that increase healthcare costs through the practice of defensive medicine.

…Defensive medicine is defined as providing medical services that are not expected to benefit the patient but that are undertaken to minimize the risk of a subsequent lawsuit. Diagnostic defensive medicine practices have a much greater impact on costs than do therapeutic defensive practices.

…If the Kessler and McClellan estimates were applied to total U.S. healthcare spending in 2005, the defensive medicine costs would total between $100 billion and $178 billion per year. Add to this the cost of defending malpractice cases, paying compensation, and covering additional administrative costs (a total of $29.4 billion). Thus, the average American family pays an additional $1,700 to $2,000 per year in healthcare costs simply to cover the costs of defensive medicine.

Legal reform is needed in order to bring costs down.  I guess that is a tall order from a President who is a lawyer and a Congress that is full of them.

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