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Do Doctors Practice Defensive Medicine?

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  • Daniel P. Kessler
  • Mark McClellan

Abstract

`Defensive medicine' is a potentially serious social problem: if fear of liability drives health care providers to administer treatments that do not have worthwhile medical benefits, then the current liability system may generate inefficiencies many times greater than the costs of compensating malpractice claimants. To obtain direct empirical evidence on this question, we analyze the effects of malpractice liability reforms using data on all elderly Medicare beneficiaries treated for serious heart disease in 1984, 1987, and 1990. We find that malpractice reforms that directly reduce provider liability pressure lead to reductions of 5 to 9 percent in medical expenditures without substantial effects on mortality or medical complications. We conclude that liability reforms can reduce defensive medical practices.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel P. Kessler & Mark McClellan, 1996. "Do Doctors Practice Defensive Medicine?," NBER Working Papers 5466, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5466 Note: HC LE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • K13 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Tort Law and Product Liability; Forensic Economics

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