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May 24, 2011

Malpractice Payments Plummeted in 2010

New Data Show Health Care Costs Are Not Linked to Lawsuits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the seventh straight year, the number of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors fell, hitting the lowest point on record, according to new data analyzed by Public Citizen.

The information, gleaned from the National Practitioner Data Bank, also shows that the cumulative value of malpractice payments in 2010, when adjusted for inflation, was the lowest since the 1990 inception of the databank. In actual dollars, payments last year were the lowest since 1998.

Public Citizen released its analysis as congressional lawmakers this week push to dramatically reduce the ability of people harmed by medical malpractice to go to court. The findings show that the lawmakers pushing the bill, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011 (H.R. 5), have it all wrong, said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

“The premise on which this bill is based is bogus,” Arkush said. “Health care costs have nothing to do with what’s going on in the courtroom. Lawmakers are using it an excuse to throw a bone to their campaign contributors in the health care industry, who don’t want patients to have legal recourse if they are harmed by malpractice.”

The analysis also found that:

• Between 2000 and 2010, health care spending rose 90 percent while medical malpractice payments fell 11.9 percent;
• Malpractice payments in 2010 amounted to just 0.13 of 1 percent of national health costs, the lowest percentage on record; and
• Total costs for malpractice litigation fell in 2009 to just 0.40 of 1 percent of health costs, the lowest level since the databank’s inception.

Most medical malpractice awards compensate for death, catastrophic harms or serious permanent injuries. Also, many studies have shown that the precipitous decline in litigation has not been accompanied by a reduction in medical errors, the analysis pointed out.

There is a crisis in medical malpractice, not lawsuits,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and the author of the analysis. “Trying to stop people from being compensated for catastrophic injuries is not the answer. We should instead concentrate on making hospitals safer and disciplining doctors who repeatedly commit malpractice.”


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