by Newt Gingrich and Wayne Oliver
Originally published by Human Events on February 23, 2010
CT scans. Blood tests. Ultrasounds. Cesarean sections. In many instances, these examples of diagnostic tools and procedures are vital to treat a patient.
However, physicians say that too often these tests and procedures are ordered unnecessarily and drive up the cost of medicine for patients, taxpayers and insurance carriers. The result, according to a new poll of the nation’s physicians released by Gallup and Jackson Healthcare this week, is that an astounding one in four dollars now spent on health care in this country is on unnecessary medical care.
The reason is simple. Doctors order these tests, treatments and procedures to protect from being sued. It is a safety valve that helps protect them from frivolous lawsuits as trial lawyers seek an easy payout, particularly after a doctor makes a simple mistake.
Doctors simply don’t want to lose everything they’ve worked for their entire lives on a minor error. As a result, American patients across the country not only endure extra hours of tests, treatments and medication but are paying much more in healthcare costs.
If President Obama and Congress are serious about reducing healthcare costs, then the $625 billion price tag of unnecessary medical care will be at the top of the list when it comes to Thursday’s bipartisan healthcare summit.
We at The Center for Health Transformation believe that Congress has to address civil justice reform so that physicians won’t be so nervous in the practice of medicine.
Seventy-three percent of doctors surveyed in the Gallup-Jackson Healthcare poll said they had practiced defensive medicine in the past year.
Congress must create incentives for states to enact civil justice reform so lawyers will think twice about suing doctors for frivolous cases.
We believe there is a place for health courts that only address malpractice cases; and a need for caps on non-economic damages known as “pain and suffering” that have nothing to do with lost wages or actual damages. We also believe in “safe harbors” or protections from lawsuits for doctors who incorporate best medical practices.
These reforms, if encouraged by Congress, will allow doctors to stop playing defense and, in turn, patients and taxpayers won’t have to empty so much from their wallets to afford healthcare in America.
Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation. Oliver is a vice president of the Center and directs the Center’s Health Justice Project.