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New report shows no link between medical malpractice lawsuits and insurance spikes

A new study by Public Citizen consumer group based on the latest national data on physician malpractice shows there is no link between spikes in doctors' insurance rates and medical malpractice lawsuits by injured patients.

According to Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook, based on “hard, factual evidence” there is no medical malpractice lawsuit crisis. Claybrook said that the spikes in insurance rates could be attributed to insurance companies padding their bottom lines by hiking up rates for doctors.

Based on the data, at the time insurance rates in some areas have increased, the number and total value of malpractice payouts to patients have been flat since 1991. Since 2001, the data shows there was actually a significant decline despite the study finding it was the same time insurance rate spikes began.

The data reveals that from 1990 to 2004, just 5.5 percent of doctors were responsible for 57.3 percent of all malpractice payments, and just 11.4 percent of doctors who have made three or more malpractice payouts have ever been disciplined.

The report entitled Medical Malpractice Payment Trends 1991- 2004; Evidence Shows Lawsuits Haven't Caused Doctors' Insurance Woes , is available online. Using the most current information from the federal government's National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which reports on malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors by malpractice payers, such as insurance companies, state-run insurance funds and self-insured health care providers, those making malpractice payments are required by federal law to report them to the NPDB.

After analyzing the NPDB records, the Public Citizen found several key factors, including the annual number of malpractice payments have actually declined despite claims by doctors and insurers about “crisis” situations. Some states have passed measures over the years based on what critics have called scare tactics, capping medical malpractice payouts for non-economic damages after claiming exorbitant payouts and greedy medical malpractice lawyers were driving doctors out of business.

In actuality, evidence shows that the system in place is working just as it should, according to Frank Clemente, director of the Public Citizen's Congress Watch. Clemente thinks that focusing on addressing the medical community's own shortcomings by improving performance and competency of doctors will better protect patients, thus reducing any medical malpractice lawsuits.

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