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April 3, 2003

Public Citizen Clarifies Data in Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Report

Public Citizen wishes to clarify some information contained in a report issued Jan. 16 on the medical malpractice insurance spikes in Pennsylvania.

The report states that, over a 12-year period, 10.6 percent of Pennsylvania doctors had made two or more malpractice payments to patients, representing 84 percent of all payments in that state. In addition, the report said 4.7 percent of the state’s doctors had made three or more payments, representing 51.4 percent of all payments.

This information was based on a data analysis by the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank. Public Citizen has learned that in an indeterminable fraction of malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, multiple payouts are made on a single malpractice claim. This is because Pennsylvania operates a supplemental state insurance fund known as MCare. Both MCare and malpractice insurance companies may make payments on the same claim.

While the original numbers in the report are accurate, they may be misleading, because many people equate payouts with claims. There is no way to determine the number of malpractice claims for which these payments against doctors were made.

However, if Public Citizen were to make a highly conservative adjustment to its calculations (eliminating virtually all MCare payouts from consideration), we would find that 5.4 percent of Pennsylvania’s doctors are responsible for 52.4 percent of all malpractice payouts. This would understate the problem because, not infrequently, MCare payments are the only payment made on a claim. This still backs up our assertion that a small number of doctors are responsible for a large number of malpractice payouts, and that medical errors could be reduced significantly if the state strengthened its oversight of physicians.

Public Citizen has issued numerous reports about medical malpractice spikes in various states. Pennsylvania is the only one of these states that has a supplemental insurance fund and where data from the National Practitioner Data Bank are confounded by multiple payouts on the same claim.

Public Citizen regrets any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused. Please call if you have any questions. Click here to view the original press release.

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