Trial lawyers tout new report on cost of medical malpractice

The nation's trial lawyers are trumpeting a new study indicating medical liability consumes 2.4 percent of the nation's healthcare spending each year.

The report, according to the American Association for Justice (AAJ), "shows that limiting the rights of injured patients will do practically nothing to lower health care costs."

"Instead, our focus should be on preventing the 98,000 deaths that occur every year because of preventable medical errors," the lobbyist group said Tuesday in an e-mail.

The new study — published Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs — found the annual cost related to medical liability is $55.6 billion. Most of that spending ($45.6 billion) is related to defensive medicine — the tests, drugs and other procedures that doctors prescribe in order to limit the risk of being sued for malpractice.

The researchers said their findings indicate malpractice-related costs are neither insignificant nor a cure-all for the nation's skyrocketing health spending trends.

"The amount of defensive medicine is not trivial," Amitabh Chandra, a co-author of the study and public policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said in a statement, "but it’s unlikely to be a source of significant savings."

Some Republicans disagree. The office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said Tuesday that "$45.6 billion a year sounds pretty significant."

"We’re not sure why that’s considered a drop in the bucket to the study authors," a Grassley aide said in an e-mail.