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Defensive Medicine Costs Exceed $12 Billion a Year, AMA Says

May 22, 1987|United Press International

CHICAGO — Fear of malpractice suits costs doctors and their patients more than $12 billion a year in insurance premiums and defensive medical procedures, accounting for 15% of all doctors' charges, American Medical Assn. researchers reported Thursday.

Analysts from the AMA also concluded that much of the defensive medicine practiced in the United States is not only medically useless but does not protect physicians from being sued.

"Those who say that defensive medicine is not a big problem or that these extra tests do some good are now going to have to demonstrate the benefits, and frankly, I think they will be hard-pressed to do that," said John Rizzo, research economist with the AMA's Center for Health Policy Research.

"There are clearly things that are being done that don't deter claims, that don't do any good medically, and do cost money," Rizzo said. "They aren't making the patient any happier; they're just costing them more."

Representatives from the legal profession, however, suggested that the AMA research was a biased attempt to obtain legislative relief from malpractice suits or to lower insurance premiums.

"Suggesting that medical malpractice is something that is costing the consumer a lot of money is really a red herring," said Philip Corboy, a Chicago trial attorney.

'Privileged Treatment'

"Doctors get very privileged treatment by the court system," he said. "And for them to pass the costs of unnecessary tests onto their patients to protect themselves further in itself is malpractice."

Using figures from an economic survey of more than 5,000 doctors, Rizzo and his colleagues estimated professional medical liability costs for 1984 at between $12.1 billion and $13.7 billion. This total included the cost of malpractice insurance, uncovered claims and medically unnecessary changes made in medical practice.

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