Health Care Debate- Don’t Ignore Lawsuit Abuse In This Conversation

It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s effort to reform health care is at the forefront of our national political dialogue. And it should – after all – the health care industry comprises one-sixth of our economy and has a daily impact on all of our lives. Rightly taking center stage in this debate is the overwhelming costs of the proposed legislation. But what we aren’t hearing about is legal reform.

The cost of lawsuit abuse to our health care system is exorbitant. In The Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer outlined a very cogent overview of the types of cost savings medical liability reform would provide for our health care system.

In his op-ed, Krauthammer argues that we should scrap the current system which overwhelming favors personal injury lawyers who usually take up to 1/3 of the proceeds from tort verdicts. He proposes to have an expert , adjudication system comprised of medical professionals, which could help downsize puffed up jury awards and make the true penalty for malpractice the loss of one’s license. Further, he mentions the problem of defensive medicine as a result of the current sue-happy environment, which drives costs up exponentially. As a physician myself, I can attest to the fact that defensive medicine – submitting patients to tests which may not be needed – are a fact of life in this litigious environment. In 2006, PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that 10 cents out of every dollar spent on health care can be attributed to the costs of liability and defensive medicine.

It should be clear that without real medical liability reform, health care costs will continue to soar, medical innovation will be threatened, patient health will be jeopardized and court system will continue to be used for greed rather than justice.

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Dr. Ron Elfenbein is a Emergency Room Physician in Maryland and a board member of Maryland Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (

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