Medical malpractice and guarding against suits cost the U.S. about $55.6 billion annually, or 2.4 percent of the total health-care bill, according to Harvard University’s Atul Gawande and co-authors.

The yearly price of so-called defensive medicine — tests, visits and procedures performed to reduce litigation risk — is about $45.6 billion, the authors said today in the journal Health Affairs, in a report using 2008 dollars. That’s the biggest part of the malpractice bill, which also includes clinicians’ time spent defending suits, and price increases to cover the cost of liability insurance…

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