Numbers In Context: A Fill-In-The-Blank Blog Post On Medical Malpractice

stethoscope.jpgThis week Overlawyered featured a blog post entitled “Malpractice Systems In Other Countries” that linked to an American Medical News article on the costs of medical malpractice litigation in the United States.
The Am Med News article suggests that the American medical malpractice system contains, “flaws that make the U.S. medical liability landscape more expensive and litigious than that of other nations.”
There are a couple of noteworthy points about this article. First, you could rewrite that sentence (in fill-in-the-blank fashion) with virtually any field of American law and it would hold true. If the author substituted “patent infringement” for “medical malpractice” and wrote that experts say that “the U.S. patent infringement landscape is more expensive and litigious than that of other nations,” it would undoubtedly be true. Americans are, by nature, very zealous defenders of their legal rights. Yet the “tort reformers” decry medical malpractice lawyers far more than you hear them complaining about patent trolls. And you never hear them complaining about the big businesses that are spending the big bucks to litigate their hairsplitting patent claims.
Furthermore, it should come as no surprise if we spend more than other countries on medical malpractice because we, as the world’s wealthiest country, spend more than virtually everyone else across all areas of our lives, including health care. The global median income is $1,700. So of course the U.S. is going to be near the top of any survey of medical malpractice litigation. In addition to being world leaders in the amount of money that changes hands in medical malpractice lawsuits, we’re also the country that spends the most on cosmetics and many other products (although the Europeans spend slightly more than us on ice cream. Should we begin fretting about whether we’re spending too little on ice cream?).
In the health care sector, our spending outstrips even our high levels of spending on other goods and services. We spend roughly 15.2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (the world’s largest GDP) on health care. This is roughly one-third more than second-place Switzerland as a percentage of GDP (in terms of absolute dollar values, of course, the disparity is much larger). Our doctors are also, by a large measure, the world’s highest paid.
Perhaps the “tort reformers” should look for targets elsewhere.