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July 9, 2003

Defeat of Medical Malpractice Bill in Cloture Vote is Victory for Consumers

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

We applaud the senators who blocked the cruel legislation to place an arbitrary $250,000 limit on the non-economic damages that can be awarded to unfortunate people who are crippled, blinded or otherwise horribly injured or killed as the result of medical malpractice.

It is abundantly clear that malpractice awards to victims are not the cause of soaring malpractice premiums paid by doctors and that this legislation would do nothing to reduce premiums. In fact, a new analysis of data from the National Practitioner Data Bank shows that the total amount of damages paid to malpractice victims actually declined by almost 7 percent last year.

The fact is that insurance companies, which are exempt from antitrust laws, have jacked up their rates for doctors – as they have for homeowners and automobile owners – to make up for lower investment income in this sour economy. But instead of focusing on making the insurance industry more accountable to consumers, President Bush and the leaders of the House and Senate sadly chose to blame the innocent victims.

There is no doubt that some doctors are struggling to pay outrageously inflated insurance premiums. But it is simply wrong to blame malpractice victims or demonize the lawyers who represent them. It is time to seriously scrutinize the insurance industry’s role in this crisis.

If, in certain places, there is a lack of obstetrical or trauma care because of insurance costs, the Graham-Durbin approach of grants to reopen those facilities should be pursued forthwith. Congress also should turn its attention to reducing medical errors, which needlessly kill tens of thousands of people each year.

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