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Feb. 6, 2003

Pennsylvania Medical Society Spots a Typo, But Can’t Counter Public Citizen’s Malpractice Facts

Spike in Pennsylvania Malpractice Premiums the Result of Cyclical Economics, Not Jury Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today challenged the Pennsylvania Medical Society to provide facts to back up its attacks on a report showing that the state’s malpractice insurance premium spikes are tied to the economy, not the legal system.

After Public Citizen released the 25-page report on Jan. 16, the society issued a critique that focused largely on a typo in the report. The typo in question, a wrong number for the number of doctors in Pennsylvania in 1998, was provided in writing to Public Citizen by the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.

The bureau has since corrected its error. Once corrected, however, this statistic reinforces Public Citizen’s finding: Despite gloomy predictions by the society, the number of doctors in the state has risen steadily over the years and has increased by 4,554 since 1995. This debunks the medical society’s assertions that doctors are fleeing the state because of high malpractice insurance rates.

"The Pennsylvania Medical Society was able to spot a typo but has been unable to provide any factual rebuttal to the two dozen pages of research demonstrating why the medical and insurance lobbies’ solution – limiting damages available to patients who have been injured by doctor error – will not work," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. "We say to the medical society: We have checked our sources and made our case. Show us yours."

In attempting to discredit Public Citizen, the medical society also claims that the 2002 statistic Public Citizen cited for the number of doctors in Pennsylvania may include physicians who are in the military or no longer actively practicing. The medical society fails to acknowledge that statistics for previous years also would include these physicians, making the chart a valid, apples-to-apples comparison.

The medical society also complains that Public Citizen classifies as "repeat offenders" those doctors responsible for multiple malpractice payments to patients. The society apparently prefers to believe that these physicians choose to pay off meritless claims to avoid court cases. If this is true, they are apparently doing so at an unprecedented rate. According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which collects federally mandated reports, Pennsylvania ranks worst among all 50 states in the percentage of doctors who have made three or more malpractice payments.

"This argument by the Pennsylvania Medical Society perpetuates the climate of denial," Clemente said. "The real malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania is the failure of doctors and state officials to address the frequency at which patients suffer from medical errors."

Public Citizen’s report, Medical Misdiagnosis in Pennsylvania: Challenging the Medical Malpractice Claims of the Doctors’ Lobby, shows that:

  • Repeat offender physicians are responsible for the bulk of medical malpractice costs. According to the practitioner data bank, which covers malpractice judgments and settlements since September 1990, 10.6 percent of the state’s doctors have paid two or more malpractice awards to patients, and these repeat offender doctors are responsible for 84 percent of all payments.
  • Medical malpractice awards have increased at a much slower pace in Pennsylvania than claimed by the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
  • The number of large verdicts by Pennsylvania juries and the amount paid in medical malpractice cases has decreased dramatically in recent years. From 2000 to 2002, the number of jury awards of $1 million or more dropped by 50 percent (from 44 to 22).

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