Data Show New York Malpractice Payouts Steady

June 9, 2009

Consumer advocates say medical malpractice payouts in New York have dropped the past two years, and they are urging state officials to investigate physician complaints about rising insurance rates and automatically review doctors who make multiple malpractice payments.

Data from the National Practitioner Data Bank show 1,882 medical malpractice payments statewide for $743 million in 2008, down from 2,417 payments for almost $823 million two years earlier. The report Friday urged an independent review of insurers’ premium-setting practices.

Less than 2 percent of the entire cost of the medical system is from malpractice, said Arthur Levin of the Center for Medical Consumers. “It isn’t a major contributor to the health care cost of inflation,” he said.

Consumer advocates are urging state lawmakers to allow victims and families to sue within 30 months after a medical error is discovered, instead of 30 months after the error is made, saying it is a particular issue with cancer cases and pathology reports. Current law provides doctors an incentive to hide their mistakes from patients, said Blair Horner of the Public Interest Research Group.

Physicians and insurance companies have opposed pending legislation to revise the statute of limitations, saying it will increase lawsuits and costs. They advocate further tort reform that would cap awards for pain and suffering.

Last August, Gov. David Paterson signed legislation that froze medical malpractice rates in New York until June 30.

Federal law requires reporting all medical malpractice payment information. The data show that claims by the insurance industry and doctors that malpractice litigation is the driving force behind higher premiums are false, Horner said.

“All I can tell you is we’ve been paying and it’s outrageous,” said Elizabeth Deers, vice president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, which represents doctors. Deers said the 15-year increase shown in malpractice payments is substantial, and New York payments are 2.5 times higher than any other state.

The federal data show 2,000 to 2,400 malpractice payments in New York each of the past 15 years. Total payments were $515 million in 1993. Horner said after adjusting for inflation, the cost has held relatively stable.

Separately, New York court data show medical malpractice cases filed statewide ranged from 4,140 to 4,460 each of the last 13 years.

The malpractice data also show 4,094 doctors who each made three or more New York payments from 1992 to 2008 for a total of $5.2 billion.

That means less than 7 percent of some 62,270 New York doctors accounted for half the total malpractice amount, the report said. Horner and Levin said the state Health Department should automatically flag doctors with three or more payments.

Calls to the state Insurance Department and Health Department were not immediately returned.

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