MedMal Incorrectly Blamed for Rise in Health Care Costs

Posted on Jul 12, 2012

A Public Citizen report finds that medical malpractice payments were at record low in 2011 – both the number of payments and the value, after adjusting for inflation, were at their lowest levels since 1991. According to Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report, despite assurances of policymakers supporting the restriction of patients’ legal rights, there is no evidence that patients are getting any benefits to make up for giving up their legal rights.

The Public Citizen report states that in 2011:

  • The number of medical malpractice payments (9,758) and the amount ($3.2 billion) were the lowest on record, falling for eight consecutive years.
  • The average size of medical malpractice payments (about $327,000) declined from previous years
  • 4/5 of medical malpractice awards were compensating for “death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries” – clearly proving that medical malpractice litigation is not frivolous
  • The percentage of the nation’s health care cost was the lowest on record (.12 percent)
  • Health care cost rose again while medical malpractice litigation is declining – disproving that medical malpractice litigation is tied to the rising health care costs.

Furthermore, the report said there is no evidence to support that the decline in medical malpractice payments is due to safer medical care. Studies find that there is a high occurrence of medical errors. The US 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.

Despite this high number of Americans seriously injured by preventable medical errors, fewer than 10,000 medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2011. Evidently the majority of patients injured by medical malpractice are not being compensated.

Therefore restricting the rights of victims to seek justice for their injuries and losses is not an acceptable answer to the problem of medical malpractice.

The article’s bottom line: Healthcare providers and policymakers should concentrate on patient safety and preventing these avoidable medical errors with the same enthusiasm they’ve dedicated to restricting patients’ legal rights.  

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