Since I’ve twice hit the subject of “defensive medicine” in the last couple weeks — doctors claiming to do extra procedures out of fear of being sued — I thought it would be a good time to update the state of the medical malpractice crisis in New York. OK, I didn’t really think of this on my own as a time to update. I got a press release on the subject. And while I don’t generally act as a distributor of press releases, this one seems to be particularly important.
The author is New York State Senator John DeFrancisco (Republican, Syracuse). He is currently the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and was formerly the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
And guess what? The “crisis” doesn’t exist. Without further ado, a brief press release from today:
Malpractice costs have been rising more slowly than overall medical inflation in recent years, and the number of malpractice cases filed has gone down in every successive year since 2007. Today, New York has the fourth most doctors per resident of any state, and continues to graduate many of the nation’s new physicians every year.
Given the improving financial outlook of Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers and the record $1.2 billion surplus that Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company recorded last year, significant increases in malpractice insurance costs are unlikely in the years to come. In fact, even today’s modest increases may have been unnecessary.
Moreover, numerous studies have shown that malpractice costs can be dramatically reduced by implementing safety programs that protect patients and reduce preventable medical mistakes before they happen.
These guys run the same crisis playbook in every state. I give them credit, they know how to play the PR game quite well.
It is said that the switch to electronic medical records in hospitals reduces the incidence of fatal medical errors. It would be interesting to see if this also reduces malpractice claims.
This is another example of the well-studied cycle in malpractice premiums that is mostly due to the long-tail nature of liabilities and short-term thinking of the insurers. Read Tom Baker’s book for the best explanation out there: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3662467.html
Claims have gone down every year since 2007.
@Eric Turkewitz – Ah. But the insurance cycle has a lot to do with the periodic cry of “crisis.”
Malpractice premiums have gone down since 2007 but it is still a great burden for doctors in high risk specialties like obstetrics. The insurance companies are in a position to make it more equitable by shifting costs more evenly among doctors. This is what health insurance companies do to some extent. I just don’t know what would motivate them to make a change like that.
Perhaps Dr. Gupta is right for the wrong reasons. The issue might not be with defensive medicine but what I would call financial medicine. Medical diagnostic equipment can be very expensive so that might instill a financial pressure to run certain tests, and help defray the costs. An MRI would be an obvious example.
Subsequently, other routine low cost testing that might be better suited is not done, and things are missed.
@Betty – How would it be fair for doctors in specialties that don’t get sued a lot to pay higher premiums for those that do? The litigation goes with the risk, and childbirth is a very risky procedure — with many years for claims to blossom into lawsuits.
@Dan Fisher – You make a good point about fairnesd but on the other hand, we need obstetricians. It is neither the most lucrative nor the easiest of specialties. There are plenty of higher paying medical fields where the cost of insurance is less by a factor if ten. I think most doctors wouldn’t mind paying a little more to remove this disincentive for students to choosing obstetrics. It is after all a field that impacts all of our lives at one point or another, even if only on our first day of life.