In a report entitled “Malpractice Payments Sunk to Record Low in 2011” that was just released by Public Citizen, it was found that “Medical malpractice payments were at their lowest level on record in 2011 by almost any measure. Specifically, both the number of malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors and the inflation-adjusted value of such payments were at their lowest levels since 1991, the earliest full year in which the government collected such data.”
The report further states, “But, contrary to the promises of policymakers and leaders of physician groups who have spent the past two decades championing efforts to restrict patients’ legal rights, there is no evidence that patients have received any benefits in exchange for ceding their legal remedies. Instead, the evidence suggests that litigation restrictions have suppressed meritorious claims, forcing malpractice victims and ordinary patients to absorb the costs of treating injuries caused by uncompensated medical errors.”
Other findings quoted in the report include:
— The number of malpractice payments made on behalf of physicians fell for the eighth consecutive year in 2011, plummeting to the lowest total since the creation of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which has tracked medical malpractice payments since the fall of 1990.
— The cumulative value of malpractice payments in 2011 was the lowest in the history of the NPDB if adjusted for inflation by either the consumer price index (CPI) or the medical services index. Even in unadjusted dollars, payments fell for the eighth straight year in 2011 and were at their lowest level since 1998.
— Medical malpractice payments on behalf of doctors accounted for just 0.12 percent of national healthcare costs last year.
— Liability insurance premiums provide a broad estimate of malpractice litigation costs. Besides payments to victims, they cover litigation defense costs, liability insurers’ profits, and insurers’ administrative costs. Such costs fell in 2010 to just 0.36 of 1 percent of national healthcare expenditures. (Note: This comparison uses 2010 data because 2011 liability insurance data are not yet available.)
— Despite suggestions by those seeking to reduce patients’ legal rights that medical malpractice lawsuits are largely “frivolous,” the vast majority of payments compensate for extremely serious harms. Four-fifths (80 percent) of the money paid for medical negligence in 2011 compensated victims or their surviving family members for harms defined by the NPDB as significant permanent injuries; major permanent injuries; quadriplegia, brain damage, or injuries requiring lifelong care; or death. The latter two categories (quadriplegia, brain damage, or injuries requiring lifelong care; and death) accounted for 44 percent of the dollars spent to compensate victims of medical malpractice.
— Between 2000 and 2011, the value of medical malpractice payments fell 11.9 percent while healthcare spending nearly doubled, increasing 96.7 percent (both calculations in unadjusted dollars). These figures debunk claims that medical malpractice litigation is responsible for rising healthcare costs, as well as promises that patients should expect savings from litigation restrictions.
— Texas, which in 2003 implemented some of the nation’s most stringent restrictions on medical malpractice litigation, has often been cited by tort reform advocates as proof that their prescription works…Malpractice payments on behalf of Texas doctors declined nearly 65 percent (in unadjusted dollars) from 2003 to 2010…But private insurance rates and per-patient Medicare spending in Texas have increased faster than the national average.
— In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of annual avoidable adverse events (and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths) that major studies attribute to medical mistakes, only 9,758 medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2011. To put this figure in perspective, the total number of payments made in 2011 equaled only a little more than 1 percent of the number of Medicare patients that the Department of Health and Human Services estimates to suffer serious, avoidable injuries in a given year—and that’s just Medicare patients.
— The juxtaposition of declining medical malpractice payments, skyrocketing medical costs, and consistent findings of rampant medical errors discredit the underlying promises of those who have campaigned to reduce patients’ access to legal remedies. The only sensible response is for policymakers and physicians to dedicate themselves to pursuing patient safety measures with the same vigor they have applied to limiting patients’ legal rights. That is a solution we could all live with.
Public Citizen is a national non-profit organization with more than 300,000 members and supporters that represents “consumer interests through lobbying, litigation, administrative advocacy, research, and public education on a broad range of issues including consumer rights in the marketplace, product safety, financial regulation, safe and affordable healthcare, campaign finance reform and government ethics, fair trade, climate change, and corporate and government accountability.”
In light of Public Citizens’ unbiased analysis and reporting of official statistics and publically-available data regarding medical malpractice payments in the United States, why do we continue to placidly submit like sheep in the slaughterhouse to the capricious efforts of the small but financially powerful health care industry, led by their high-paid and well-placed lobbyists, to limit and restrict our long-held and judiciously-protected right to be fully compensated for our injuries and losses that result from negligent medical care that was solely in the control of medical malpractice wrongdoers?
Why do we stand silent when the righteous decisions of unbiased juries made up of residents chosen from our local communities are subverted by arbitrary, inequitable, and unfair laws (such as caps on medical malpractice damages) that favor one small but powerful class of citizens (that is, health care providers) over the interests of all others in the community (that is, the rest of us)?
And if caps on noneconomic damages are intended to be fair and reasonable, why do the laws in most states with caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases prohibit medical malpractice juries from being told about the existence of the caps or the amount of the caps?
Why do we place greater trust in the motives of our state legislators who are lobbied for their votes on legislation that does not effect them instead of the sense of fairness and justice exercised by our fellow citizens who sit on our juries?
If you are the victim of medical malpractice in your state, you should contact a local medical malpractice attorney to protect your legal rights.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free at 800-295-3959 to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may agree to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.