Data Shows No Correlation between Medical Malpractice Payouts and Soaring Medical Costs

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm point to a recent report issued by Public Citizen, which collected data and trends of our national health care system and medical malpractice litigation system.Public Citizen found that, despite increased legislation placing restrictions on malpractice litigation, health care costs continue to skyrocket.

The federal government began tracking medical malpractice payouts, through the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), in 1990. In 2003, malpractice payouts reached their highest levels yet, and critics were quick to place exclusive blame on this trend for the soaring health care costs and lack of American participation in medical insurance.

Then-President George W. Bush spent a considerable amount of time trying to restructure the medical malpractice legal system, an effort that current Republicans have carried on and even elevated. In 2010, Representative John Boehner asserted over and over again in the debate over health care reform that malpractice claims and defensive medicine was the largest cost-driver in all of medicine. Similarly, in 2012, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) submitted only two ideas in a bid to replace the Affordable Health Care Act, one of which was “lawsuit reform.”

The majority of states now have legislation imposing restrictions on medical malpractice awards and payouts, some more outdated and ludicrous than others. As a result of the Republican crusade and state’s measures to restrict malpractice damages, the frequency of doctor payouts for malpractice and the overall amount of money spent on litigation has fallen every single year since 2003.

In fact, in 2012, the amount of payments fell to the lowest levels on record, establishing a new base low for the sixth year in a row. In sum, medical malpractice payouts have fallen nearly 29% since 2003; conversely, in those same years, American health care costs have risen over 58%.

This divide clearly confirms that the legal process did not cause nor direct the rising health care costs, inadequate access to care, or lack of participation in medical health insurance. Even back in the early 2000s, the argument to blame litigation was weak, though an easy target. In their peak year, malpractice payouts accounted for about 0.25% of overall health care costs. Malpractice insurance premiums, which pay for the costs of litigation for hospitals and doctors, accounted for only 0.62%.

Trends from the past few decades show that doctors practicing defensive medicine to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits is not related to skyrocketing health care costs. This is particularly glaring in Texas, which has one of the most limited malpractice tort restrictions in the nation. In the seven years between 2003 and 2010, damage payouts fell by nearly 65% in the state, yet health care costs rose considerably faster than the national average.

Experts are now trying to pinpoint the precise health care expenditures that are driving the costs so significantly. Some note the 24% pay rise physicians in certain specialties have enjoyed over the past decade, along with the pay increases for chief medical officers in the health care system, which have far outpaced the rate of inflation.

The theory that malpractice litigation is in any way frivolous or unnecessary not only holds no water, but belittles and invalidates the victims who have been significantly injured, disfigured, and killed by avoidable medical errors. Indeed, more than 80% of the damages paid by doctors and hospitals for negligence were for such permanent injuries as quadriplegia, brain damage, death, and the need for lifelong care, as reported in the federal database.

This is not to suggest that litigation is the only avenue toward reforming the health care system or epidemic of avoidable medical mistakes. Damage awards will never bring feeling back into the legs of a paralyzed victim, nor return a deceased loved one to their family. They can, however, give doctors and hospitals accountability, so they strive for the best possible standard of care for their patients, and provide families devastated by life-long injuries the assistance they need for medical care.

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm hope our nation’s lawmakers and health care officials take careful consideration of this data and information, and apply it for the good of the public. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by a medical error, or have any questions regarding malpractice litigation, our attorneys can provide you with legal consultation at no cost to you.

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