Dc News

Washington D.C. medical malpractice “crisis” claims unfounded

The Public Citizen consumer group issued a press release stating the supposed Washington D.C. medical malpractice “crisis” claimed by doctors that is caused by an increase in D.C. medical malpractice lawsuits that have resulted in a large increase in medical malpractice insurance rates is unfounded. The D.C. medical malpractice report using government and private sources data shows the actual number of D.C. medical malpractice lawsuits filed in recent years has actually decreased dramatically in addition to decreases in malpractice insurance costs.

Despite these D.C. medical malpractice findings, the mayor has proposed lawmakers consider including a $250,000 medical malpractice payout cap, which would drastically increase the pain and suffering of severe D.C. medical malpractice victims. Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division thinks that, “Proposals to limit patients’ legal rights are simply an effort to curry favor with well-heeled special interest groups, not improve the quality of health care in Washington.”

Included in the D.C. medical malpractice report were key findings, including:

  • The number of malpractice lawsuits filed in D.C. courts is 24 percent lower than it was a decade ago. In 1992, 209 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed compared to 158 in 2002.

  • As a group, District health care providers have seen a significant decrease in the medical malpractice premiums they pay. According to insurance industry data, malpractice premiums in the District decreased by 32 percent from 1992 to 2001, a period when costs of medical care increased by 47 percent nationally.

  • Total spending on health care in the District of Columbia was $4.3 billion in 1998 (the last year for which government data is available). In comparison, D.C. health care providers paid $31.8 million in malpractice insurance premiums - equivalent to only 0.72 percent of all the money spent on health care in Washington, D.C., that year.

  • The cost of medical negligence and errors to Washington, D.C., patients and consumers is considerable. Based on findings by the Institute of Medicine, Public Citizen estimates that there are 89 to 199 deaths in Washington each year due to preventable medical errors, costing residents, families and communities $35 million to $59 million.

  • Health plans included under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which insures a large number of District residents, have raised their average health insurance premiums 67.5 percent over the last five years. In comparison, the District's leading malpractice insurer, NCRIC, increased its rates only 26 percent during the same period. Medical costs typically are the largest share of medical malpractice awards.

  • The District has the highest physician-to-population ratio in the country. According to American Medical Association data, the District has 60 percent more doctors per 100,000 population than the second-ranked state, Massachusetts.

  • Insurance industry economics, not jury awards, have led to increased malpractice insurance rates in other parts of the country. When the economy is strong and investment returns are high, rates stay at modest levels; spikes occur when the economy falters. There is no evidence that caps on damages would lower rates, which even insurance companies and their lobbyists have acknowledged.

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