Defensive medicine brings inflation to health care costs

As inflation touches on every aspect of consumer prices, health care costs have been continually increasing due to the practice of defensive medicine — and could go up even higher from here.

An opinion piece in the Washington Times highlights the cost and strain of defensive medicine on our health care system during a time when we can least afford it.

“Many physicians today practice “defensive medicine,” which drives up the cost of care by forcing them to order procedures and referrals that may be unnecessary but provide protection against future litigation,” writes Arne Owens, a former deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and former chief deputy director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions.

“In an already stressed health care system, we can ill-afford to drain such resources that could otherwise be used for medical research or to increase the patient capacity of existing facilities.”

This stems from a patchwork of medical liability laws at the state level and inaction on the issue at the federal level, which has left physicians relocating to friendlier liability climates, making changes to their practice, or retiring early.

“The net effect of the medical liability system on these physician behaviors will only compound the post-COVID-19 problem of shortages in the health care workforce across the nation,” Owens writes.

Owens highlights his home state’s success with liability reform that mitigates high costs for patients and physicians. In 2010, Virginia enacted a limit on total damages, good for 20 years, that has provided long-term predictability and stability in medical liability insurance.

The reality for many patients is that “paired with inflationary pressures, the cost of medical care may soon be out of reach for the average American family if we don’t act quickly,” Owens concludes.

To read more about the link between defensive medicine and inflation in health care costs, click here.

Florida case could damage integrity of expert witnesses

A medical liability lawsuit currently pending before the Florida Supreme Court seeks to expand the scope of health care providers eligible to provide expert witness testimony — damaging the integrity of such testimony in the process.

The issue stems from accusations that a neurosurgeon and registered nurse practitioner were negligent during a plaintiff’s cervical disc procedure and that the required pre-lawsuit affidavit utilized the opinion of a physician who instead practiced in internal medicine and cardiology.

A lower court ruled this physician outside of neurology was qualified to provide an expert opinion about post-surgical care provided by the advanced registered nurse practitioner — a ruling that would have negative implications for expert testimony in future cases. 

In response, the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Medical Association and the American Medical Association pointed to how this would impact medical liability lawsuits in the future — by increasing abuse of the system.

“The requirement under (part of state law) that a claimant obtain a supporting affidavit from a medical expert in the ‘same specialty’ as a prospective defendant before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, helps protect healthcare providers from frivolous claims,” the groups’ brief said. “The decision of the (Supreme) Court in this case will have statewide impact on medical malpractice litigation.”

To read more about how this case could impact important aspects of determining that lawsuits have merit before moving forward, click here.  

Pending legislation in New York would further exacerbate health care cost crisis.

A bill recently passed by the state legislature in New York would have harmful effects on already-high health care costs across the state.

The legislation would increase the statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits and provide a vast expansion on relatives eligible for filing such a lawsuit, increasing costs and the likelihood of medical lawsuit abuse.

A coalition of businesses across the state expressed their opposition to the bill in a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul, citing the resulting likelihood of crippling costs. They included actuarial cost analyses that state the bill would increase medical professional liability costs by nearly 40 percent.

“This would significantly increase costs, especially around medical insurance, medical liability insurance, and New York has the highest medical liability insurance costs in the country,” said Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

Without any limits on non-economic damages, Stebbins emphasized that if enacted, “it’s going to go full-speed ahead on the cost increase without anything to do to control those costs.”

To read more about the potentially damaging effects of creating a new class of liability lawsuits in a state where patient and physician costs are already sky-high, click here.