As we've, ahem, been saying here all along, tort reform is not the way to get a handle on rising health care costs. Now the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office
is saying it, in a report ("Limiting Tort Liability for Medical Malpractice,"
Jan. 8, 2004) that offers the following key observation:
Evidence from the states indicates that premiums for malpractice insurance are lower when tort liability is restricted than they would be otherwise. But even large savings in premiums can have only a small direct impact on health care spending—private or governmental—because malpractice costs account for less than 2 percent of that spending. Advocates or opponents cite other possible effects of limiting tort liability, such as reducing the extent
to which physicians practice “defensive medicine” by conducting excessive procedures; preventing widespread problems of access to health care; or conversely, increasing medical injuries. However, evidence for those other effects is weak or inconclusive.
The point about the lack of a correlation between tort reform and reduced pressure to practice defensive medicine deserves an additional comment, which appears later in the brief:
Proponents of limiting malpractice liability have argued that much greater savings in health care costs would be possible through reductions in the practice of defensive medicine. However, some so-called defensive medicine may be motivated less by liability concerns than by the income it generates for physicians or by the positive (albeit small) benefits to patients.
The report comes too late to save Texan from Proposition 12, which voters approved last fall, but at least we now have CBO support for the idea that the legislature sold them a pig in a poke.