As North Carolina examines its medical malpractice laws, including a cap on medical malpractice non-economic damages and lawsuit immunity for emergency room doctors, some wonder if these laws are even necessary. Now, a new study conducted by consumer watchdog Public Citizen has found that the total payments that doctors make to medical malpractice victims has been falling and continues to fall.

Based on data found in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), the study found that the number of payments made by physicians to injured patients and their families has fallen for the past seven years – during the same period that doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies say claims have risen uncontrollably.

Both the number of payments, 10,195, and the amount of the payments, $3.35 billion, fell in 2010, with the number of payments at a low not seen in two decades. While the average malpractice payment rose 1.6% in 2010 to $328,303, that small change is likely the result of inflation. In addition, Public Citizen stresses that the vast majority of medical malpractice cases included in the study involved either death or severe injury like paralysis – not “frivolous” lawsuits or lawsuits regarding minor injuries.

While supporters of medical malpractice reform, such as the American Medical Association (AMA), say that the number of medical malpractice payments is much higher, others wonder whether the matter should be examined more closely – especially when it comes to how much medical malpractice payments affect overall health care costs.
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