NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Social Cost of Adverse Medical Events

April 8, 2011

The cost of death and injury from medical errors and other adverse events caused by the health care system itself is enormous, according to a new study by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) featured in the April issue of Health Affairs.

  • "Every time the health care system spends a dollar trying to heal us, it causes as much as 45 cents worth of harm," says NCPA President, CEO and coauthor John C. Goodman.
  • "Your chances of dying from a cause other than the one you were hospitalized for are as high as one in 200," says NCPA senior fellow and coauthor Pamela Villarreal.
  • In addition, patients who enter the hospital have a one in 20 chance of getting a hospital-caused infection or other adverse event.
  • The economic cost of harm is $393 billion to $958 billion.
  • These amounts are equal to 18 percent to 45 percent of total U.S. health care spending in 2006.

The solution, according to Villarreal, is to "compensate people for their injuries, regardless of cause, and scrap the malpractice system altogether.  Using the money we now spend on the malpractice system, compensation for death could be set at $200,000 and $20,000 for an injury, depending on severity.  This type of compensation system would give hospitals and providers economic incentives to reduce error rates."

Source: John C. Goodman, Pamela Villarreal and Biff Jones, "The Social Cost of Adverse Medical Events, and What We Can Do about It," Health Affairs, April 2011.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues