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October 28, 2009
Ramseyer on the relationship between universal health insurance and malpractice claims
J. Mark Ramseyer (Harvard Law School) has posted The Effect of Universal Health Insurance on Malpractice Claims: The Japanese Experience.
Japanese patients file relatively few medical malpractice claims. To date, scholars have tried to explain this phenomenon by identifying "faults" in the Japanese judicial system. They look in the wrong place. Largely, the faults they identify do not exist.
To explore the reasons behind Japanese malpractice claiming patterns, I instead begin by identifying all malpractice suits that generated a published district court opinion between 1995 and 2004. I then combine the resulting micro-level dataset with aggregate data published by the courts, and publicly available information on the Japanese health care industry.
I locate the explanation for the dearth in claims in the patterns of Japanese medical technology, and the reason for that technology in the national health insurance program. In order to contain the cost of its universal national health insurance plan, the Japanese government has radically suppressed the price it pays for the technologically most sophisticated procedures. Predictably as a result, Japanese doctors and hospitals have focused instead on more rudimentary - and more generously compensated - care. Yet, for reasons common to many societies, Japanese patients do not sue over rudimentary care. They sue the physicians who supply the most sophisticated care. Japanese patients bring relatively few malpractice suits because the government has (for reasons of cost) suppressed the volume of the services (namely, highly sophisticated services) that would otherwise generate the most malpractice claims.
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