Wednesday, March 05, 2003

USAToday's page 1 lead: "Hype outraces facts in malpractice debate Degree of crisis varies among specialties and from state to state." In a six week study, the newspaper concludes the following:
* Some states have rapidly rising malpractice premiums, especially in obstetrics, neurology and some surgical fields. But, on average, doctors still spend less on malpractice insurance -- 3.2% of their revenue -- than on rent.

* Large jury awards play a limited role in causing premiums to rise, despite allegations that greedy trial lawyers and frivolous claims are to blame. Less than 2% of malpractice claims result in a winning verdict at trial, according to insurance industry estimates.

* Settlement payouts are up, but that has less to do with pain-and-suffering claims than with higher awards for what are called economic damages -- the patient's medical bills, lost wages and other expenses.

* Insurance companies are boosting rates partly to make up for price wars in the 1990s, when competition kept premiums low, and to counter recent declines in their investment incomes. That investment profit had helped offset losses from malpractice damage awards and the artificially low premiums charged to doctors.

* In some states, medical organizations and regulators have failed to weed out bad doctors. That has caused malpractice rates to go up for all.

There's a lot of other good information in the article, including a reference to a 1990 Harvard study suggesting "that only one in eight victims of medical negligence ever files a claim. When they do, it's an uphill fight: Lawyers sometimes have trouble finding a local doctor who will testify to a colleague's mistakes, attorneys say, and jurors often are inclined to give a physician the benefit of the doubt." Also, did you know that

two-thirds of patients who file a claim don't get a dime, the insurance group's statistics show. About 61% of cases are dismissed or dropped; 32% are settled, with average payouts of $300,000, and only 7% go to trial. Patients prevail in only one in five of the cases that are tried -- about 1.3% of all claims.

The tenor of this page 1 lead suggests to me that the wheels are starting to come off the tort reform wagon.

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