Medical Malpractice and the Cost of Health Care

Robert J. Samuelson is one of the country’s most prolific economists. His regular columns in Newsweek and the Washington Post secure his status as an opinion leader on economic issues of our day.

Samuelson is unrepentantly a proponent of Reagan supply-side economics. I’ll bet you a thousand bucks he voted for President Bush. Twice.

This week, Samuelson wrote a depressing article on the health care debacle President Obama inherits. He speaks to the nuance of the problem you rarely hear from non-economists. To the chagrin of medical malpractice tort reform proponents, there is no mention of medical malpractice insurance premiums or defensive medicine as part of the health care problem.

Make no mistake, medical malpractice lawsuits impose a cost on society. As do all lawsuits. And if you think runaway juries in medical malpractice cases are a problem, I’ll disagree with you, but I respect your opinion. But to suggest that medical malpractice is an enormous factor in the macroeconomic picture that is the cost of health care just lacks support.

Keep this in mind: we spend well over $2 trillion on health care in the country. How much money is this exactly? With this bailout and the economic stimulus package, we have lost sight of what $2 trillion dollars annually means. If you laid one-dollar bills end-to-end, your chain would stretch from the earth to the moon and back again 400 times with two trillion dollars. This is a lot of money. If lawyers were getting a fair chunk of that $2 trillion, there would be a lot more malpractice lawyers. Trust me.

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