Medical Malpractice Reform, the Supply of Physicians, and Adverse Selection

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Malpractice reforms tend to reduce physicians' liability for harming patients. Because these reforms are passed at the state level, the costs of harming patients vary widely by geographic location. In this paper, I test whether malpractice reforms affect where physicians choose to practice and whether physicians who relocate in response to reforms are particularly prone to commit malpractice. Because a state’s own reforms cannot separately distinguish moral hazard from adverse selection, and because those reforms are likely to have direct effects on measures of malpractice via the legal market, I focus attention on neighboring states’ reforms. I find that when a state’s neighbor passes a cap on noneconomic damages, both the physician-to-population ratio and the malpractice rate fall. This suggests that physicians who relocate in response to noneconomic damages caps are more likely to commit malpractice.

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