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Study: Medical Malpractice Payments Hit New Lows in 2012

Medical Cross.jpgMedical malpractice payments to doctors continue to decline. The payments were at their lowest levels in 2012, according to a report from Public Citizen. Medical malpractice payments in 2011 also reported record low levels. Since 2003, medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent, yet national health care costs are up 58.2 percent.

Public Citizen says the continued pattern of decrease in medical malpractice payments debunks the theory that litigation is to blame for soaring medical costs.

But, medical malpractice litigation has been singled out by many in the U.S. Congress as the culprit for rising health care costs. For instance, during the health care reform debate, John Boehner (R-Ohio), then the House Minority Leader, called medical malpractice litigation the "biggest cost driver" in medicine. And, according to Public Citizen, Republicans in Congress have made it a priority to pass legislation that would restrict patients' ability to have their day in court.

"The facts clearly and obviously refute the contentions put forth by Boehner and others that malpractice litigation significantly influences health care costs. Medical malpractice payments continue to fall and health care costs continue to rise. It doesn't take a math whiz to determine that they are not correlated," said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.

According to 2012 report findings:

- The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,379) was the lowest on record, falling for the ninth consecutive year;

- The value of payments made on behalf of doctors ($3.1 billion) was the lowest on record if adjusted for inflation. In unadjusted dollars, payments fell for the ninth straight year and were at their lowest level since 1998;

- More than four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries - countering the claim that medical malpractice litigation is "frivolous;"

- Medical malpractice payments' share of the nation's health care bill was the lowest on record, falling to about one-tenth of 1 percent (0.11 percent) of national health care costs;

- Medical liability insurance premiums, a broad measure that takes into account defense litigation costs and other factors as well as actual payments, fell to 0.36 of 1 percent of health care costs, the lowest level in the past decade.

In, "No Correlation: Continued Decrease in Medical Malpractice Payments Debunks Theory That Litigation Is to Blame for Soaring Medical Costs," Public Citizen analyzed data from the federal government's National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which has tracked malpractice payments since the fall of 1990.

Public Citizen suggested that lawmakers should focus on reducing the errors that lead to litigation, not reducing accountability for the errors.

"We now have a decade's worth of data debunking the litigation canard," said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen's Congress Watch division and the report's author. "Policymakers need to focus on reducing medical errors, not reducing accountability for medical errors."

Baltimore, Maryland-based Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has been fighting for the victims of medical malpractice and negligence for many years. Call us at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultation.

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