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Pennsylvania Medical Society Admits It Lacks Facts to Support Scare Tactics Used in Medical Malpractice Debate

April 30, 2004

Pennsylvania Medical Society Admits It Lacks Facts to Support
Scare Tactics Used in Medical Malpractice Debate

Chairman of State Doctors’ Group Acknowledges that Data Show the State
Is Gaining – Not Losing – Physicians, Just as Public Citizen Reported

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Pennsylvania Medical Society admits it made unsubstantiated claims in its campaign to scare citizens and lawmakers into believing that a medical malpractice crisis justifies changing the state constitution and curtailing the legal rights of injured patients.

The medical society has insisted that malpractice insurance costs have driven as many as 1,700 doctors out of Pennsylvania. But on April 22, the chairman of the medical society finally acknowledged to state legislators that data show the state has gained 800 doctors over the past two years, as reported by the Morning Call of Allentown.

This admission is in accordance with one of the crucial findings by Public Citizen, which issued reports in 2003 and 2004 presenting statistics about medical malpractice in Pennsylvania. Public Citizen found that the number of physicians practicing in the state increased by 1,859 from 1994 to 2002. The most recent report also found that the annual number of medical malpractice payouts has declined and the number of large jury awards in malpractice cases has dropped sharply.

The medical society was quick to label Public Citizen’s findings as inaccurate, despite the reports’ wealth of government and industry data. When challenged to provide factual support for its counter claims, however, the medical society failed to respond.

“The doctors’ lobby wanted Pennsylvania to blame its malpractice insurance problems on injured patients and their lawsuits – and the medical society was willing to use no facts and false facts to make its argument,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and an author of the studies. “Now, lawmakers and voters should realize they need to tune out the rhetoric and look for real answers.”

In 2003, the medical society launched broadsides against the Public Citizen report, Medical Misdiagnosis in Pennsylvania, because it contained a single miscalculation of the number of physicians who had made medical malpractice payouts. When Public Citizen voluntarily issued a public correction of the erroneous statistic, it divulged its research sources and methodology – and challenged the medical society to do the same. Until last week, however, the society had not admitted that its claims were unsubstantiated.

Key findings in Public Citizen’s 2004 report, which the medical society has been unable to refute, include:

  • The number of Pennsylvania doctors rose 5.6 percent from 1994 to 2002. In 1994, 33,321 physicians paid into the state’s Mcare Fund, run by the insurance department. In 2002, the last year for which data are available, the number of participating physicians had risen to 35,180 – an increase of 1,859.
  • The annual number of medical malpractice awards in Pennsylvania declined by at least 6.3 percent and as much 13.1 percent from 1995 to 2002, depending on which set of federal National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) data is used. There were 957 medical malpractice awards made in Pennsylvania in 1995 and 832 awards made in 2002 – a decrease of 125, or 13.1 percent.
  • The rate of medical malpractice awards per Pennsylvania physician dropped at least 9.2 percent and by as much as 16 percent from 1995 to 2002, depending on which set of NPDB data is used. The number of malpractice awards per 100 Pennsylvania doctors was 2.81 in 1995 and dropped to 2.36 in 2002 – a decline of 16 percent.
  • Mcare/CAT claims, cases and payouts have declined or been stable for the past five years. The number of claims for which payouts were made declined from 706 in 1999 to 699 in 2003, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance. The number of cases in which Mcare, the state’s catastrophic coverage fund, has made payouts has dropped from 580 in 1999 to 542 in 2003 – a decrease of 6.5 percent. The total amount of payouts for all claims rose by only 1 percent per year from 1999 to 2003, from $300.8 million to $314.0 million, after adjusting for medical care services inflation.
  • The number of jury verdicts of $1 million or more fell by 50 percent from 2000 to 2002, declining from 44 in 2000 to 22 in 2002, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance. The overall amount of these awards decreased by 75 percent, from $415 million to $93 million.
  • The number of medical malpractice cases filed in Philadelphia dropped 58 percent in 2003, as a result of procedural rules changes regarding venues mandated by the state Supreme Court. In 2003, 572 medical malpractice cases were filed in Philadelphia, compared to 1,352 in 2002, according to the Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia.
  • The cost of medical negligence and errors to Pennsylvania patients and consumers is considerable. Based on Institute of Medicine findings, Public Citizen estimates that there are 1,920 to 4,277 hospital deaths in Pennsylvania each year due to preventable medical errors, and the costs to Pennsylvania’s residents, families and communities are estimated at $742 million to $1.3 billion each year. But the cost of medical malpractice insurance to Pennsylvania’s health care providers is about $683 million a year.

Click here to read the 51-page report, The Facts About Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania.