An interesting article in the March 2008 issue of Consumer Reports helps to once again dispel an urban myth. Lawyers and frivolous lawsuits are the reason health care costs keeps rising. The article notes over 60% of surveyed adults think this is true. The same survey showed 69% specifically thought it was due to frivolous lawsuits. Well guess what, neither is true. Not even close. Yet politicians continue to spout this as fact. You hear it so often you naturally think it must be accurate. Lawyers have for years spoken of the myth of the frivolous lawsuit. Not to say that they don’t occur. And when they do, they make the news. The fact that 99.9% of valid legitimate cases get resolved in the court system never makes a headline. Who wants to read about that? We’d rather read about the crazy pant lawsuit. The suit for millions for a lost pair of pants is a clear example of a frivolous suit. But as most lawyers, judges and anyone else who works in the civil justice system know, they are as rare as a hospital undercharging you for medical care. When they do occur, such as the pants lawsuit, they almost always get tossed out of court. This is one of the facts the National Chamber of Commerce forgets to mention in all their TV ads and websites to try to convince you the courts are awash in frivolous lawsuits. The pants lawsuit was tossed out of court and the person who brought the suit was ordered to pay all the other side’s attorney fees and court costs. In other words the system worked. But try and find any mention of that in the ads. The myth of rising health care cost being caused by lawyers and frivolous lawsuits is again laid to rest by Consumer Reports magazine. Despite the public misconception, the article noted less than 2% of overall health care spending had anything to do with malpractice-insurance premiums or payouts in malpractice lawsuits. But ah ha you say, what about defensive medicine, the practice of ordering more tests than needed just to protect against lawsuits. The article pointed out that defensive medicine might add another few percentage points at best. Neither of these facts however has found their way into any of the tort reformer’s clamor for laws to reduce your right to recover damages when a doctor or hospital hurts you or a family member due to sloppy medical care. So what is the largest contributor to rising health care costs? According to Consumer Reports – doctors and hospitals account for the largest increase – over 52% in 2006. According to the article, doctors and hospitals earn more money by doing costly interventions than by keeping people healthy.
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