Medical Malpractice Crisis in California

Let’s deal directly with the Truth about medical malpractice. Recently, a Republican led, President Bush supported, bill was narrowly defeated in Congress. Proponents of that Bill, H.R. 4600, would like you to believe that there are too many lawsuits in the medical malpractice field. But the real problem with medical malpractice is medical malpractice. Every year, thousands of patients are killed or seriously injured by incompetent doctors and dangerously defective medical products.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Bad doctors aren’t stopped from practicing. Despite the high rate of malpractice, fewer than 3,000 doctors were disciplined in 1999 by State Medical Boards according to the Public Citizen Health Research Group. The Group also found that fewer than one-third of the country’s disciplined doctors are prevented from practicing by the State Medical Boards and federal agencies charged with monitoring them. Public Citizen, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group Ranking of State Medical Board’s Serious Disciplinary Actions in 1999, April 2000. Public Citizen, Health Group Names 16,638 Questionable Doctors.
  • Medical malpractice premiums comprise only 0.59% of national healthcare costs, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Eliminating medical malpractice lawsuits in total would do little to contain healthcare costs. Malpractice Suits Not Driving Medical Costs Up, Says Group, the New Orleans Times – Picayune, May 5, 1999, at E-3.
  • Malpractice occurs too frequently in America. A 1999 Institute of Medicine study estimated that medical errors cause many as 98,000 deaths a year. That is about 268 deaths a day. The National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC says that about three out of every 100 people admitted to hospitals suffer an “adverse event”. An “adverse event” is defined as a health problem accidentally caused by doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical personnel. Howard Isenstein, One More Time: Key Legislators Join Effort to Reduce Medical Errors, Mod. Physician, July 1, 2000 at 28. Michael Woods, At the Hospital, Ask Questions: It’s the Informed Patient’s Way to Avoid Errors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 20, 2000 at D-4.
  • Medical malpractice is actually one of the most profitable lines of insurance nationwide. Losses paid by insurers in 1993 for medical negligence amounted to only 33¢ out of every $100 of healthcare spending, according to insurance monitor A.M. Best. Taken from a specialty data base prepared by A.M. Best (1995). See also National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Report on Profitability 1997 (1999) noting that malpractice insurance profits are more than double property/casualty insurance profits.
  • Medical malpractice claims do not clog our courts. Only 7% of all court claims in 1992 involved medical malpractice, according to the National Center for State Courts. Since 1987, malpractice claims have remained stable at about 7.7 claims per 100 physicians. Larry S. Stewart, Damage Caps Add to Pain and Suffering, incite on the news, November 7, 1994, at 20. David P. Olson, Measuring the Cost of Defensive Medicine,
  • So-called “defensive medicine” is not a problem. Insurers say that doctors, driven by fear of litigation, give too many tests and services to patients. But in the age of managed care, the idea that doctors give “too much care” is ridiculous. The problem is that the system now dispenses too little care. That’s why Congress had to pass legislation outlining one-day “drive-through deliveries” of babies – HMO’s wouldn’t give enough care without being ordered to do so. Newborns & Mothers’ Health Protection Act of 1996, Pub.L No. 104-204.

Data recently released by two consumers groups shows that California’s twenty-two year experience with the nation’s most draconian limits on the rights of medical malpractice victims has failed to slow premium increases for doctors and hospitals. In fact, over the last decade, the average malpractice premium in California has grown in a more quickly than it has in the nation overall.

The California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and New York-based Center for Justice and Democracy hired nationally recognized actuary J. Robert Hunter, former Texas Insurance Commissioner and Federal Insurance Administrator under Ford and Carter, to compare national malpractice premium trends to those in California. Hunter found that from 1991 to 2000, malpractice premiums in California have stayed close to national premium trends. The 2000 average premium per doctor in California was only 8.2% below that of the nation ($7,200.61 versus $7,843.75) while the average malpractice premium in California between 1991 and 2000 actually grew more quickly (3.5%), than it did in the nation overall (1.9%). According to Hunter, “there is not much difference in the rates or the rate of change between California and the nation based on the latest decade of experience.”

The bottom line – California – patients have been denied adequate compensation and representation for their injuries, and California doctors have seen almost no premium savings. Only the insurers have gotten rich in the good times.

The sad truth is that insurance carriers lost money through imprudent investments (including ENRON), and manipulate doctors’ premiums to cause a “malpractice insurance crisis”.

If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of medical malpractice or professional negligence, you need the assistance of the Scarlett Law Group. Call (415) 688-2176 today to speak with a California Personal Injury Attorney.

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