North Carolina News

Study discredits claims North Carolina medical malpractice crisis is present

According to a study, the claims of a North Carolina medical malpractice insurance crisis are totally unfounded. Any spikes in the medical malpractice premiums are due to cyclical economics of the insurance industry and not the legal profession as doctors and the healthcare profession claim, according to the study. Key North Carolina medical malpractice study findings included:

  • Based on Institute of Medicine data, preventable medical errors cause 1,259 to 2,803 deaths in North Carolina each year. These errors cost residents, families and communities $486 million to $830 million annually in lost wages, lost productivity and increased health care costs. In contrast, medical malpractice insurance costs North Carolina’s doctors $159 million annually.

  • A small portion of North Carolina’s doctors is responsible for the bulk of malpractice payouts. According to the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank, just 3.2 percent of North Carolina’s doctors, each of who made two or more payouts, are responsible for 42 percent of all medical malpractice payouts. Even more distressing, just 1 percent of the state’s doctors, each of whom made three or more payouts, are responsible for 20 percent of all medical malpractice payouts.

  • The number of malpractice lawsuits filed in North Carolina courts remained flat from 1998 to 2002, when adjusted for population growth and the increase in the number of doctors in the state. The number of filings rose from 556 in 1998 to 608 in 2002, an increase of 2.3 percent a year, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. But, population and doctor growth averaged 1.7 percent and 2.8 percent a year, respectively.

  • When inflation is taken into account, the amount of money paid out per North Carolina doctor for malpractice claims has declined over the past decade, based on data from the National Practitioner Data Bank. Payouts per doctor in 1992 were the equivalent of $4,694 (in 2002 dollars) compared to $4,246 in 2001 (in 2002 dollars).

  • The number of doctors practicing in North Carolina jumped from 11,632 in 1992 to 16,392 in 2001, an increase of 40.9 percent, or 4.5 percent a year, according to the North Carolina Health Professions Data System. In comparison, the state’s overall population increased 2.1 percent a year from 1992 to 2001 – less than half the rate of increase of the doctor population. Significant increases occurred in specialties most at risk of being sued – neurosurgeons, OB/GYNs and general surgeons

  • Louisiana has one of the most extreme damage caps in the country, yet malpractice insurance premiums charged by the largest provider there are an average of 22 percent higher for various specialties than those of North Carolina’s largest provider, according to Medical Liability Monitor data. Virginia is the only other southern state that caps medical malpractice damages. A comparison of two malpractice insurance companies that provide coverage in both states shows that North Carolina doctors in various specialties are in the same general range with Virginia doctors when it comes to the premiums they pay. However, injured North Carolina patients received 65 percent more in compensation in 2001 than patients in Virginia ($165,000 versus $100,000).

  • The North Carolina Medical Board is among the nation’s least effective in disciplining doctors, ranking 45th among all states in the frequency with which it takes serious disciplinary actions against doctors for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses or other offenses. "Repeat-offender" doctors suffer few consequences – only 15 percent of the state’s doctors who have made three or more malpractice payouts have been disciplined; only 18 percent of the state’s doctors who made five or more malpractice payouts have been disciplined.

April 3, 2003
North Carolina medical malpractice debates what is fair. The issue of medical malpractice laws continues to be highly debated across the nation, including in North Carolina. Both sides of the North Carolina medical malpractice debate were in attendance at a recent conference.

Doctors are in support of a North Carolina medical malpractice cap because they feel too many medical malpractice lawsuits are paying abundantly large awards. Advocates think that instead doctors need to figure out how to protect patients against doctor errors that take the lives of nearly 3,000 patients.

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