Maryland News

Report shows Maryland medical malpractice insurance crisis unfounded

There is no medical malpractice lawsuit problem in Maryland. Marylanders need to look beyond the scare tactics of the Medical Society. It would be a huge mistake to restrict patients’ legal rights so that they cannot hold doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies fully accountable for deaths or serious injuries.” -Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch

Public Citizen consumer advocacy group issued a report finding Maryland doctors are not facing a Maryland medical malpractice crisis and that just 3% of Maryland doctors are responsible for 51% of the Maryland medical malpractice payouts. Although Maryland State Medical Society and Medical Mutual insurance company has claimed the state is in a crisis, Public Citizen found that 89.4% of Maryland’s doctors have never made a medical malpractice payout. Other significant Maryland medical malpractice findings that were included in the Public Citizen press release include:

- The number of medical malpractice legal claims filed per physician has dropped 17.6 percent since 1996 - from 3.4 claims per 100 physicians in 1996 to 2.8 claims per 100 physicians in 2002, according to Maryland Office of Health Claims Arbitration data.

- After annual medical malpractice payouts reported by the NPDB are adjusted for medical inflation, the total amount dropped 17.9 percent from 1996 to 2002. Malpractice payouts declined from $71.3 million in1996 to $58.5 million in 2002 in adjusted dollars. In equivalent dollars, liability insurers paid $12.8 million less in 2002 than they paid in 1996.

- The mean medical malpractice payout to injured patients dropped 29 percent from 1996 to 2002, after adjusting for medical inflation, according to NPDB data. The mean malpractice payout dropped from $310,100 in 1996 to $220,083 in 2002 - $90,017 less.

- There were only three medical malpractice payouts of $1 million in each of the past two years, compared with eight payouts of $1 million or more in 1996 and 2000, according to NPDB data.

- There is no "exodus" of doctors from Maryland. The doctor population has increased an average of 1.2 percent a year since 1996, and the state has the fourth highest ratio of doctors-to-population among all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

- The cost of medical negligence and errors to Maryland patients and consumers is considerable. Based on findings by the Institute of Medicine, Public Citizen estimates that there are 836 to 1,862 hospital deaths in Maryland each year that are due to preventable medical errors – costing residents, families and communities $323 million to $551 million each year. This is far below the annual $155.1 million cost of medical malpractice insurance to Maryland's health care providers.

- Doctors with repeated malpractice claims against them suffer few consequences. Only 20.6 percent (37 of 180) of Maryland doctors who made three or more malpractice payouts since 1990 were disciplined by the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance. Moreover, Maryland in 2002 ranked 46th among all states and the District of Columbia for the frequency at which it takes serious disciplinary actions against doctors for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses or other offenses, according to Public Citizen's analysis. - While the report finds that Medical Mutual's 28 percent rate hike is not justified, it found that overall, since 1996 Medical Mutual kept its rate increases for malpractice insurance well behind the rising cost of medical services. For instance its "midpoint" premium (for general surgery) declined 15.9 percent from 1996 to 2002. This suggests the company kept rates artificially low to gain market share. Medical Mutual also had much lower investment returns in recent years. The combination of these two factors, and other problems with the "insurance cycle," suggest that industry economics - not lawsuits - were the impetus behind the company's request for a 28 percent rate increase.

- Homeowners' insurance rates have increased 8.6 percent a year since 1996 - at least twice as fast as Medical Mutual's insurance rates - suggesting an insurance industry, not litigation, problem.

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