Medical Malpractice Costs Drop To New Low, as Medical Care Costs Soar

While the cost of medical care in the United States continues to climb, the amount paid out for medical malpractice continues to fall, contradicting claims by tort reform advocates who argue that lawsuits are driving up healthcare costs.  

Medical malpractice costs in the U.S. dropped to a new record low in 2012, according to a report by the prominent consumer group Public Citizen, which indicates that payments for malpractice lawsuits and settlements have fallen for the ninth consecutive year.

The report, titled “No Correlation: Continued Decrease in Medical Malpractice Payments Debunks Theory That Litigation Is to Blame for Soaring Medical Costs“, uses data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which has collected medical malpractice data since 1990. The $3.1 billion paid for medical malpractice in 2012 is the lowest amount on record.

Public Citizen has repeatedly called on lawmakers to focus their efforts on actually reducing medical errors that hurt patients, instead of creating a litigation boogeyman that allows them to protect the medical industry from injured consumers, by imposing arbitrary damage caps that override jury decisions and other actions that do not make patients safer.

“We now have a decade’s worth of data debunking the litigation canard,” Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and the report’s author said in a press release. “Policymakers need to focus on reducing medical errors, not reducing accountability for medical errors.”

Malpractice Payments Hit New Lows

The report found that not only was the amount paid the lowest on record after adjustment for inflation, but even if one did not adjust for inflation, it was still the lowest amount paid since 1998 and represents nine uninterrupted years of decline. The group also found that the 9,379 actual malpractice payments made in 2012 was the lowest on record and had also fallen for nine years straight.

Only one-tenth of one percent of healthcare costs in the United States can be attributed to medical malpractice costs, the report found.

Of those malpractice payments that are made, the vast majority involve deaths or catastrophic injury resulting from medical errors. According to Public Citizen, this contradicts claims that medical malpractice lawsuits focus on frivolous claims.

While medical malpractice lawsuit costs have plummeted 28.8% since 2003, the actual cost of health care nationally is up more than double that, 58.2%. Had the cost of medical malpractice and health care truly been linked at the hip, as some lawmakers suggest, health care costs would have been $1.3 trillion in 2012, less than half of the $2.8 trillion healthcare bill the nation actually faced.

Reseachers at Johns Hopkins reached similar conclusions earlier this year, in a study published in the Journal of Healthcare Quality. In that study, researchers from the prestigious hospital determined that medical malpractice costs counted for less than one percent of all health care costs.

The report comes less than two months after a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that medical malpractice fears were also not actually driving increases in medical testing either. According to that report, unnecessary medical testing appears to be a result of the medical culture in the U.S. and is not associated with fears of doctors being sued for failure to diagnose claims.

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