The medical malpractice liability system does not appear to have a widespread impact on access to health care, according to a new report from the United States General Accounting Office.
While medical malpractice concerns have contributed to localized health care access problems, many reports of physicians relocating to other states or closing their practices are either inaccurate or involved relatively few physicians, the report says.
On the issue of defensive medicine, which is often cited as a major health care cost escalator, GAO says that the overall prevalence and costs of this practice have not been reliably measured.
Studies designed to measure defensive medicine, GAO says, focus on physician behavior in specific clinical situations.
Because of this limited scope, GAO says, the study results cannot be generalized to estimate the extent and cost of defensive medicine practices across the health care system.
The new GAO report, number 03-836, is the second major analysis released by the Congressional watchdog in the past few months. An earlier report, number 03-702, which drew strong praise from industry groups, said that increased costs, rather than insurance industry practices, largely are responsible for medical malpractice premium rate hikes.