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2002 Government Data Disputes Claims Regarding Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

According to new government data, the number and amount of payments to medical malpractice victims declined in 2002, contradicting the assertion that skyrocketing medical insurance premiums are linked to malpractice lawsuits. This new data comes at a crucial time, as the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on Wednesday on legislation that would significantly restrict the ability of malpractice victims to hold accountable the parties responsible, with a mandatory cap of $250,000 on all non-economic damages.

Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., conducted an analysis of the National Practitioner Data Bank’s records for the previous year, and made the following discoveries:

· The number of medical malpractice payouts decreased by 8.2%, from 16,669 in 2001 to 15,304 in 2002.
· Total damages paid to victims dropped by 6.9%, from $4.5 billion to $4.2 billion. (With adjustments for medical services inflation, the decline is actually 11.2%)
· The number of awards greater than $1 million decreased by 11.5%, from 454 to 402.
· The mean payment per malpractice victim increased by only 1.4%, although the increase in health care inflation during the same year totaled 4.8%, resulting in an inflation-adjusted drop of 3.3%.
· Only 5.2% of doctors made two or more malpractice payouts, and were responsible for 55% of all payouts between 1990 and 2002.
· Of all doctors who made three or more malpractice payouts, a mere 5.2% were disciplined.

Public Citizen uses these figures to point out that taking steps to discipline doctors repeatedly found to be negligent would probably have more effect than caps on reducing payouts and lowering insurance premiums.

“It is clear from these numbers that the insurance premium increases over the past year are not tied to lawsuits,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

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