Published on:

What Medical Malpractice Crisis?

“We’re not in a crisis. We’re definitely not in a crisis.”

An annual survey by Medical Liability Monitor (MLM) found that medical malpractice premiums rates have fallen 1.1%, the 10th consecutive year of lower rates in obstetrics & gynecology, general surgery, and general internal medicine, three areas of medicine said to be indicative of the industry as a whole.

The survey found that many physicians are paying lower premiums than they did in the early 2000s and noted that one insurance carrier was recently quoting general surgeons in Wisconsin $10,868, but was quoting $15,980 sixteen years ago.

Why Are Rates Lower and Why Aren’t We Hearing More About It?
Medical liability expert Paul Greve analyzed the results of the MLM survey and said that claims are “relatively flat and near historic lows.” But why? Greve believes three forces are at play to lower the number of medical malpractice claims:

  1. A recent push for patient safety education, policy, and reforms have greatly influenced the way that providers practice, making health care safer than it was in previous decades
  2. State tort reforms that discourage filing so-called frivolous lawsuits
  3. Competition among medical malpractice insurers for the business of independent physicians

Independent medical malpractice insurers are fighting for businesses because of “Big Box” medicine. Major medical networks and hospitals have begun insuring themselves and their physicians.

No one is sure why congressional Republicans are still fighting for medical malpractice reform (commonly referred to as tort reform) at the federal level. As of now, states are able to pass their own legislation (that abides by the Constitution) that dictates malpractice limitations.

The constant statement from these advocates is that medical malpractice lawsuits are costing doctors a fortune and essentially putting them out of business. Many suspect that this is to create a distraction from the constant mess that has been the American healthcare system. By changing the conversation, Republican lawmakers are likely hoping the passage of laws that limit punitive damages (commonly labeled ‘pain and suffering’) will mislead Americans into believing they are reforming our healthcare system. In reality, they’re robbing injured Americans of their right to receive justice. Illinois, luckily, does not currently impose a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

To quote Paul Greve, “We’re not in a crisis. We’re definitely not in a crisis.”

Some Good News for Physicians in Chicago, Illinois, and the Midwest
The MLM survey also surveyed medical malpractice insurers and asked them to give their current rates as of July 1, 2017 for policies that allowed up to $1 million for an individual claim and a $3 million annual limit for all claims. The rates received represent 65-75% of the medical malpractice insurer market. Rates rose .6% for the northeast region, but fell .8% in the west, .9% in the south, and 2.1% in the midwest.

…And Some Bad News
One statistic that was revealed in the survey and has been similarly identified in various other studies conducted in recent years, is that the number of large dollar amount verdicts and settlements has increased. This means that while the overall number of medical malpractice claims has dropped, more serious injuries still seem to be occurring. This is multilayered, according to experts. The cause could be that these injuries were always happening, but are more noteworthy because of the decline in claims overall. It could also be due to the anger and resentment held by juries in regards to the health care system. Jurors could be potentially awarding more for non-economic damages. For most Americans, healthcare is expensive, the access to doctors isn’t great, they’re irritated by the constant shouting in Congress and the media about healthcare reform, and they’re tired of seeing nothing change.

Our own Senator, Dick Durbin, told us in an email this year that statistics show “Nearly 70 percent of all medical negligence lawsuits result in no settlement.  An estimated six percent of doctors are responsible for 60 percent of all medical negligence that result in claims.” He concluded his email by saying “the justice system is our only effective means of holding these doctors accountable.”

It is important to see the facts for yourself. Studies, surveys, and medical data collection have shown us for years that medical malpractice claims are declining, doctors’ malpractice premiums are declining, and that errors can and do still happen. For now, we are fortunate to live in a state that does not impose caps on non-economic damages. We can only hope that Congress realizes imposing caps at a federal level is essentially determining how much your life and livelihood is worth.