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, according to a new Public Citizen report.
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.
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;
- 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);
- 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.
“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.
Source: Public Citizen
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