Americans for Insurance Reform released a study earlier this week showing that in recent years, doctor premiums and medical malpractice claims have overwhelmingly dropped, while the profits of the medical malpractice insurance industry have soared. Significantly, the study concludes that placing further limits on the liability of negligent doctors and unsafe hospitals would be unjustifiable, and would put almost no dent in our country’s health care costs.
AIR’s report, True Risk: Medical Liability, Malpractice Insurance and Health Care, is by Gillian Cassell-Stiga and Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice & Democracy, and actuary J. Robert Hunter, who is Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), former Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Texas, and former Federal Insurance Administrator under Presidents Carter and Ford.
In describing the study’s findings, Hunter said, “Thirty years of inflation-adjusted data show that medical malpractice premiums are the lowest they have been in this entire period. This is in no small part due to the fact that claims have fallen like a rock, down 45 percent since 2000. The periodic premium spikes we see in the data are not related to claims but to the economic cycle of insurers and to drops in investment income. Since prices have not declined as much as claims have, medical malpractice insurer profits are higher than the rest of the property casualty industry, which has been remarkably profitable over the last five years. –AIR
The findings apply equally to states that have placed major tort restrictions on victims of medical malpractice and to states that have not.
The study adds that because medical malpractice premiums amount to less than 0.5% of overall health care costs, with medical malpractice claims amounting to 0.2% (yes, these are tiny decimals) of health care costs, limiting liability any more will simply not have a significant effect on these health care costs. “If Congress completely eliminated every single medical malpractice lawsuit,” it says, “including all legitimate cases, as part of health care reform, overall health care costs would hardly change, but the costs of medical error and hospital-induced injury would remain and someone else would have to pay.”
All of this only confirms the position we’ve been taking, which is that removing or further limiting medical liability would mean robbing patients of the only meaningful check and balance they have on the impossible monstrosity of a system that American health care has become. Limiting liability is not a way to save the country money, and it’s not fair for patients who are wrongfully injured or who lose their lives due to negligence.