Once again Maryland doctors are raising the specter that patients will be denied access to medical care because doctors will be leaving Maryland as the cost of medical liability insurance increases. The last time they used this scare tactic they convinced the Assembly to subsidize their premiums. Now as those subsidies are set to expire they’re back with the same tired threats. Citing an emerging doctor shortage, doctors are urging Assembly members to enact “tort reforms” designed to slam the court house door on injured patients.
First, claims of an emerging doctor shortage are not borne out by the facts. A recent report to The Governor’s Task Force on Health Care Access and Reimbursement indicated that data collected from the American Medical Association and the American Osteopathic Association and adjusted on a consistent basis shows that Maryland has the 4th highest patient care physician to population ratio in the U.S.
Second, recent empirical evidence published by leading academic authors
from Harvard’s School of Public Health and George Mason University
debunks the conventional wisdom long promoted by the medical community
that increases in liability insurance premiums cause physicians to
relocate or discontinue their practices in high-cost states.
Investigating the effects of insurance premiums and various tort
reforms on the number of obstetrician-gynecologists from all fifty
states and the District of Columbia between 1992 and 2002 they found
that the supply of OB/GYNs had no significant association with premiums
or tort reforms. Their results indicated that most OB/GYNs do not
respond to liability risk by relocating out of state or discontinuing
their practice, and that tort reforms such as caps on non-economic
damages do not help states attract and retain high-risk specialists.
Unfortunately for the doctors this kind of fear mongering should no longer be effective with the Maryland Assembly.
Numerous Public Citizen Reports have shown that the real medical
malpractice problem is medical malpractice. Little progress has been
made since the IOM reported in 1999 that nearly 100,000 deaths occur
annually as a result of medical error. It is not pretty to say, but
doctors and nurses make preventable mistakes that kill more people in
the U. S. every year than workplace and automobile accidents
combined. Medical errors cause needless pain and suffering for
thousands of innocent patients and their families. Much of this harm
is caused by a small handful doctors. This means that a directed
effort in policing negligence would go a long way toward both saving
lives and reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance.