Can a fear of lawsuits lead providers to more ‘intense’ care?

Eight years ago, Tom Price, MD, well before his abbreviated and controversy-filled tenure atop HHS, warned how “defensive medicine” drove healthcare costs, estimating 26 cents of every dollar went to unnecessary tests to protect physicians and hospitals from malpractice suits.

The estimate wasn’t taken seriously back then, but researchers are now offering a much more precise estimate for such overtreatment—finding that 5 percent of costs can be attributed to such practices.

“There is defensive medicine,” Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT and an author of the paper, which was published in draft form Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, told the New York Times. “But that defensive medicine is not explaining a large share of what’s driving U.S. health care costs.”

The researchers examined active-duty military members, who can access government healthcare but are unable to sue doctors and hospitals for malpractice. They examined the differences in care when these military members had to use their benefits at civilian hospitals, where spending increased, with extra diagnostic tests a driving factor.

The potential for lawsuits led physicians to more intense care. Exposure to liability created pressure for doctors to order more tests and treatments. The 5 percent increase in care, the researchers argued, did not impact patient outcomes. This study was not a case of military members receiving insufficient care; it was evidence patients with the ability to sue were receiving too much.

Read the full story at the New York Times at the link below: