The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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Medical Malpractice Payments Continue to Fall, Public Citizen Analysis Shows

Data Show That Congress Should Focus on Curtailing Medical Errors, Not Patients’ Rights to Seek Redress for Injuries


Fewer medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in
2009 than any year on record, according to an update of the National
Practitioner Data Bank that was released this week.

The data contradict claims by some that medical malpractice
litigation is to blame for rising health care costs. Changing the
liability system to the detriment of patients will not curb health care

The value of malpractice payments in actual (unadjusted) dollars was
the lowest since 1999. Adjusted for inflation, payments were at their
lowest since 1992, a Public Citizen analysis shows.

Last year was the fifth consecutive year the number of payments has
fallen and the sixth straight year in which the value of payments has
fallen. In contrast, U.S. health care costs have increased every year
since 1965, the earliest year for which such data exist.

Between 2000 and 2009, health care spending rose 83 percent while
medical malpractice payments fell 8 percent. (Both figures are in
unadjusted dollars.)

A total of 10,772 payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2009,
totaling $3.49 billion. That figure equals 0.14 of one percent of the
Centers for Medicare and Medcaid Services' estimated $2.5 trillion in
overall U.S. health care spending for 2009.

Numerous studies have found that injuries and deaths caused by
medical errors dwarf the number of actual medical malpractice payments.
For example, the Institute of Medicine found in 1999 that 44,000 to
98,000 people die every year due to avoidable errors. Subsequent
studies have estimated even higher casualty levels.

Proposals to set up alternative "health courts" that theoretically
would compensate a greater percentage of patients in a less adversarial
setting are misguided. Such a system would cost several times as much
as the status quo, if administered fairly. The only way to save money
would be to impose draconian limits on compensation.

"Medical malpractice payments have fallen for years and are at the
lowest level on record," said David Arkush, director of the Public
Citizen's Congress Watch division. "Litigation accounts for a miniscule
fraction of health costs, small enough to be a rounding error. It is
ridiculous that certain members of Congress continue to obsess about
this greatly exaggerated problem. They should know better, and they
should focus instead on fixing real problems like the crisis of
preventable medical errors."

The national data bank began collecting data in the fourth quarter of 1990.

READ Public Citizen's analysis.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

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