Physician Malpractice Payments Decreased in 2009, Says Public Citizen

John Commins, March 5, 2010

Malpractice payments in 2009 were the lowest in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1992, according to Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group.

The organization says its findings are consistent with a National Practitioner Data Bank update this week that showed fewer malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2009 than any year since 1990, when the data bank was created.

Public Citizen said the data contradict claims that malpractice litigation is to blame for rising healthcare costs, and that changing the liability system to the detriment of patients will not curb healthcare costs.

"Litigation accounts for a miniscule fraction of health costs, small enough to be a rounding error," said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, in a media release. "It's ridiculous that certain members of Congress continue to obsess about this greatly exaggerated problem. They should know better, and they should focus instead on fixing real problems like the crisis of preventable medical errors."

AMA President J. James Rohack, MD, however, disputed the findings, and said Wednesday that Public Citizen "continues to rely on a flawed database as the source of its information."

"While [Public Citizen continues] to oppose improvements to our broken liability system, the AMA is focused on efforts to make it work better for patients and physicians," Rohack said.

"There are proven reforms working in California and Texas that keep doctors caring for patients and preserve patients' day in court. Today, President Obama included alternative medical liability reforms in his health system reform proposal because there is broad recognition that liability reform is needed to curb the growth in healthcare costs."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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