Medical malpractice insurance premiums have declined for the 6th straight year in a row for obstetrician-gynecologists, internists and general surgeons. Collective premium rates for these three medical specialties have fallen by about 2% each year. There is no current medical malpractice insurance crisis and continued efforts to further limit injured patients’ access to the courts are not needed. There has been a 50% drop in malpractice claims since the supposed “liability crisis” in the early 2000s. The decrease in claims has resulted from tort reform that has been instituted in many states, but claims have also decreased in states that have not implemented such reforms.
While the American Medical Association claims continues to advocate for more curbs on patients’ abilities to receive compensation for negligent treatment, the data shows that the problem is not one of high premiums but rather the high rate of negligent medical injury. The frequency of malpractice has not decreased even though fewer claims are filed. From personal observation, it is the increased cost of proving a medical malpractice case that has caused the number or filed claims to decrease. Some of the increased cost resulted from tort reform which has increased the legal hurdles when representing an injured patient. However a lot of the increased cost has resulted from the higher medical expert witness fees and the increased number of medical experts required to prove both medical errors and the causation of otherwise avoidable injury. Because of the increased expert and tort reform costs, the number of cases that have sufficient injury to warrant the filing of a claim has decreased, and the data shows this.
While the medical and insurance industries continue to push for even more restrictive laws that limit medical malpractice recoveries, the real problem continues to be the increasing frequency of medical malpractice. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 98,000 patients were killed annually by medical negligence. In 2012, the Journal of Patient Safety wrote that the number of patients dying from preventable medical injuries in hospitals was 440,000. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act will likely further increase the frequency of medical malpractice injuries, because physicians will have less time to assess and treat patients and even less time to engage in the analytical thinking required to properly synthesize a patient’s medical data and arrive at the proper differential diagnosis and workup. When physicians are busy and overworked, the number of malpractice errors increase.