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Does Malpractice Liability Keep the Doctor Away? Evidence from Tort Reform Damage Caps

David A. Matsa

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

January 19, 2007

Many U.S. states limit awards for non-economic damages in malpractice cases. Proponents often argue that such tort reform increases physician supply and access to care. However, the degree to which marginal changes in malpractice liability affect physician supply is theoretically ambiguous. If patients bear the full incidence of cost changes and market demand is inelastic, then tort reform will not affect physicians' net income or location decisions. I use county-level, specialty-specific annual counts of physicians from 1970 to 2000 to estimate the effect of damage caps on physician supply. The results suggest that caps do not affect physician supply for the average resident of states adopting reforms. On the other hand, caps appear to increase the supply of frontier rural, specialist physicians by 10-12 percent. This is likely because rural doctors face greater uninsured litigation costs and a more elastic demand for medical services.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: malpractice, tort reform, damage caps, physician supply, rural medicine

JEL Classification: I11, I18, J44, K13, L84, R38

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Date posted: August 3, 2006 ; Last revised: October 20, 2010

Suggested Citation

Matsa, David A., Does Malpractice Liability Keep the Doctor Away? Evidence from Tort Reform Damage Caps (January 19, 2007). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=920846 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.920846

Contact Information

David A. Matsa (Contact Author)
Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )
2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States
847-491-8337 (Phone)
847-491-5719 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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