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Malpractice not cause of healthcare cost

Analysis finds malpractice payments at historic low

While healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, medical malpractice payments fell to a new low, undermining the argument that malpractice litigation costs contribute significantly to healthcare costs.

A newly released report from advocacy group Public Citizen shows the results of an analysis of data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank, which has tracked malpractice payments since the fall of 1990.

[See also: The medical malpractice debate]

Among the report's key findings:

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  • The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,379) was the lowest on record in 2012, falling for the ninth consecutive year.
  • The value of payments made on behalf of doctors ($3.1 billion) was the lowest on record if adjusted for inflation. In unadjusted dollars, payments were at their lowest level since 1998.
  • More than four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries.
  • Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s healthcare bill was the lowest on record, falling to about one-tenth of 1 percent (0.11 percent) of national healthcare costs.

  • Medical liability insurance premiums, which takes into account defense litigation costs and other factors as well as actual payments, fell to 0.36 of 1 percent of healthcare costs, the lowest level in the past decade.

Medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent since 2003, the report’s author noted, while national healthcare costs have risen 58.2 percent. "If healthcare costs paralleled litigation trends during the past decade, the nation’s healthcare bill in 2012 would have been $1.3 trillion. Instead, it was $2.8 trillion," the organization said in its report.

Instead of blaming rising healthcare costs on malpractice litigation, the author said, lawmakers and others should turn their attention to the high rates of medical errors and the compensation paid to physicians and healthcare executives.

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