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July 25, 2002

Bush Administration Grandstanding on Medical Malpractice, Failing Patients in Need of Better Medical Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Bush’s call to undercut medical malpractice litigation is misguided, misinformed and contrary to findings of his own administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to a Public Citizen briefing paper released today.

"The Bush administration's political appointees at HHS have produced a clip-job medical malpractice ‘report’ filled with anecdote and innuendo that, not surprisingly, concludes the problem with medical malpractice is not patients’ death or injuries but too many lawsuits," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "But the health care professionals at HHS and other independent scientific bodies have a different story to tell."

Bush administration claims that spikes in medical malpractice insurance premiums are due to "excessive lawsuits" are rebutted in the briefing paper. The report documents that medical malpractice claims have been flat in recent years, payments have not skyrocketed but instead have been lower than the pace of health care cost inflation, and the cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums has not gobbled up an ever-increasing share of national health spending.

The briefing paper also shows that insurance rates are rising significantly in other insurance products: Auto insurance rates are projected to climb by 23 percent from 2000 to 2003 and homeowners insurance is projected to climb by 21 percent over the same period.

"Medical malpractice insurance rate increases – like increases in other insurance products – are primarily due to the declining stock market and bad investment decisions by insurers rather than increased litigation," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. "President Bush should work harder to fix the economy rather than point figures at lawyers to please the insurance and doctors’ lobbies."

Among the chief points made in the Public Citizen critique of the Bush administration’s initiative are the following:

  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at HHS found that the number of adverse effects from medical treatment has more than doubled in recent years, rising from 302,118 in 1993 to 710,000 in 2000.
  • The Centers for Disease Control has found that 90,000 deaths per year are linked to hospital infections and represent the fourth leading cause of mortality among Americans, behind heart disease, cancer and strokes. These infections also kill more people each year than car accidents, fires and drowning combined. The Chicago Tribune recently found that nearly three-quarters of these deadly hospital infections – or about 75,000 deaths – were preventable.
  • The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences found that at least 44,000 and perhaps as many as 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors – more than die from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS.

"Given the dangerously uneven quality of state medical board regulation of doctors, it is extremely important that patients be able to ‘regulate’ the quality of doctor care by holding them accountable in court," said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Claybrook added that Bush’s call is similar to his comments during the California energy crisis, in which Bush claimed there was a shortage of power plants – which we now know is untrue. This, too, is a manufactured crisis, she said.

Click here to view a copy of the briefing paper.

Click here to view a fact sheet on the McConnell Amendment, the proposed Senate legislation on Medical Malpractice

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