Health Care Act’s Glaring Omission: Liability Reform

My latest article for on Obamacare:

Coverage for 30 million uninsured.  A ban on lifetime payout limits.  No co-pays or deductibles on preventive medical services.  Insurers prohibited from excluding patients based on pre-existing medical conditions.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) creates a massive, wide-scale overhaul of the heavily flawed and criticized health care system of the United States.  But for all of the Obama Administration’s work in creating this 906 page federal law, there is one glaring omission that could decrease the costs of health care and help relieve the upcoming physician shortage.

Medical Liability Reform.

How could the Obama Administration create such a comprehensive overhaul of health care without addressing this issue?  Although not a panacea for the health problems in the United States, the need for physicians to practice defensive medicine in order to avoid potential litigation has far-reaching consequences.

A 2008 survey of Massachusetts doctors found that 83% admitted to practicing defensive medicine.  This study determined that 18-28% of tests, procedures, and referrals and 13% of hospital admissions were performed for the sake of avoiding lawsuits.  In this one state alone, they estimated $281 million in unnecessary physician costs and over $1 billion in excessive hospital costs due to the practice of defensive medicine.  Across the country, doctors are ordering tests and consultations as a way to protect themselves from potential liability.

In our litigation-obsessed culture, the costs for doctors to purchase liability insurance can be astronomical.  According to Medical Liability Monitor, in 2011 general surgeons in Miami-Dade County paid $190,000 per year for malpractice insurance.  General internists in Detroit, Michigan paid approximately $35,000 per year for coverage.  It’s a well-known fact that family medicine physicians and even Ob-Gyn’s are giving up the practice of obstetrics, due to the excessive cost of malpractice insurance and the fear of potential lawsuits.

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Posted in: Dr. Anthony Youn in the Media

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