Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Don Owens, Deputy Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7767
dowens@citizen.org

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779
kgower@citizen.org

David Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs
w. (202) 588-7742
drosen@citizen.org

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog
Facebook/publiccitizen

Follow us on Twitter

 

July 11, 2012  

Medical Malpractice Payments Hit Record Low Last Year, New Public Citizen Report Finds

Analysis Discredits Claim That Medical Malpractice Payments Account for Soaring Health Care Costs

Washington, D.C.– Medical malpractice payments in 2011 were at their lowest level on record by almost any measure, discrediting the claim that these payments are to blame for the skyrocketing cost of health care, a new Public Citizen report finds.

In the report, “Malpractice Payments Sunk to Record Low in 2011,” Public Citizen analyzed data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which tracks malpractice payments on behalf of doctors. The report found that the number of medical payments and the inflation-adjusted value of such payments were at their lowest levels since 1991, the earliest full year for which such data is available.

“Contrary to the promises of policymakers and leaders of physician groups who have spent the past two decades championing efforts to restrict patients’ legal rights, there is no evidence that patients receive any benefits in exchange for ceding their legal remedies,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “Instead, malpractice victims and ordinary patients end up absorbing significant costs for uncompensated medical errors.”

The report found that in 2011:

  • The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,758 payments) was the lowest on record, having fallen for the eighth consecutive year;
  • The inflation-adjusted value of payments made on behalf of doctors ($3.2 billion) was the lowest on record. In actual dollars, payments have fallen for eight straight years and are at their lowest level since 1998;
  • The average size of medical malpractice payments (about $327,000) declined from previous years;
  • Four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries – disproving the claim that medical malpractice litigation is “frivolous”;
  • Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s health care cost was the lowest on record (just 0.12 percent of all national health care costs); and
  • Health care costs rose again amid the decline in medical malpractice litigation – debunking the claim that the litigation is tied to rising health care costs or that patients should expect dividends from reduced litigation;

The total costs for medical malpractice litigation for doctors and hospitals (as measured by liability insurance premiums paid) have fallen to their lowest level in two decades. They amounted to 0.36 percent of national health care expenditures in 2010, the most recent year for which such data is available.

There is no evidence that the decline in medical malpractice payments is due to safer medical care, the report said. Studies routinely conclude that there is a high prevalence of medical errors; for instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that more than 700,000 Medicare patients suffer serious injuries from avoidable errors every year, with fatal outcomes for 80,000 of these people.

In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of injuries (and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths) that major studies attribute annually to medical mistakes, fewer than 10,000 medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2011, demonstrating that the vast majority of patients injured by medical malpractice are not being compensated, the report found.

“When victims of malpractice do not receive compensation, their future medical costs must be borne by somebody: the victims themselves, their insurance companies or the taxpayers,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen. “The juxtaposition of declining medical malpractice payments and skyrocketing medical costs exposes bogus claims that reducing patients’ access to legal remedies will reduce costs. The only sensible response is for policymakers and physicians to dedicate themselves to pursuing patient safety to prevent these injuries and deaths with the same vigor with which they have previously sought to restrict patients’ legal rights.”

###

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org. 

Copyright © 2016 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.


Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation

 

You can support the fight for greater government and corporate accountability through a donation to either Public Citizen, Inc., or Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.

Public Citizen lobbies Congress and federal agencies to advance Public Citizen’s mission of advancing government and corporate accountability. When you make a contribution to Public Citizen, you become a member of Public Citizen, showing your support and entitling you to benefits such as Public Citizen News. Contributions to Public Citizen are not tax-deductible.

Public Citizen Foundation focuses on research, public education, and litigation in support of our mission. By law, the Foundation can engage in only very limited lobbying. Contributions to Public Citizen Foundation are tax-deductible.