Health reform helps primary care

Side note: Most proponents of medical malpractice reform cite the cost of defensive medicine as the main reason why reform is necessary. Defensive medicine, which can be defined as the unnecessary tests and procedures done solely to protect the doctor from possible litigation, costs the county an estimated $200 billion. I’ve heard many physicians refer to it at CYA Medicine, Cover Your Ass Medicine. Yet many overlook the most dangerous repercussion of out of control medical malpractice litigiousness: the growing shortage of primary care physicians. The hostile, litigious nature of the current medical environment, coupled with sky-high medical malpractice insurance costs, is driving many primary care physicians into safer medical specialties.

By Bo Wang

During the health care reform debates earlier this year, one of the key issues of contention had been the need for medical malpractice reform, with the debate largely centered on the savings on defensive medicine that would be generated from such a change. Republicans and others in favor of malpractice reform often cited estimates that defensive medicine — extraneous tests and procedures that physicians perform on their patients to reduce the likelihood of missing a diagnosis and later being sued for it — can cost the country as much as $200 billion per year or roughly 10 percent of total national health care expenditures. On the other side, Democrats and opponents of this reform cited much lower figures and repeatedly brought up McAllen, Texas, which in 2006 still ranked as one of the top health care guzzlers per capita in the country despite the state placing a cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages three years earlier.

While medical malpractice reform was ultimately left out of the reform bill amid heart-tug strategies employed liberally by both sides, the issue is worth revisiting, not the least because our representatives missed one of the main reasons why the current medical malpractice system needs to be overhauled. It is not the savings on defensive medicine but the need to ensure that the field of medicine — and especially the primary care setting — continues to attract and retain the brightest scientific minds for the promotion of national health and well-being.

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