New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Insurance Industry, Medical Malpractice


March 10th, 2008

New York Doctors Rally In Albany for Tort "Reform"

New York’s doctors, led by the state Medical Society, rallied last week for tort “reform,” blaming lawsuits for the increase in insurance premiums. According to a medical society press release, 1,500 physicians traveled to Albany last Tuesday to protest on the steps of the State Capitol. The issue they brought to the legislators was high medical malpractice premiums, which I reported last July jumped 14% (see: Why New York Medical Malpractice Insurance Jumped 14%).

As you can see from that link (You did read that link, didn’t you? I hope so because it’s important), the jump was related to artificially low rates set by the New York Insurance Department for years combined with the state swiping almost $700M from the rainy day fund.

But when the doctors rallied in Albany, it was injured patients that were their targets. In a surreal moment, Dr. Robert Goldberg, the head of the Medical Society, offered up in a press release this humdinger of Doublespeak:

Physicians firmly believe that patients who truly suffer injury due to medical error should be fully reimbursed for economic damages, but non-economic awards must be reined in and the litigation process must be made equitable.

In other words, caps on lawsuits must be imposed on the most badly injured individuals because it would be inequitable to fully compensate them. Equity, it appears, demands giving some level of protectionism to the person that caused the injury. George Orwell would certainly be proud.

One of the reasons this bit of propaganda is important is because payments to the injured had nothing to do with the rate hike. In fact, both the number of malpractice case and the amount of payments made have been relatively flat nationwide since 1991.

And the nationwide trend does not differ in New York. In November 2007, Public Citizen put out a report (that I discussed previously here: Will NY Doctors Be Hit With $50,000 Surcharge?) that reached these conclusions, among many others:

  • There have been fewer medical malpractice payments in the past five years than in any five-year period on record;
  • Amounts paid out, when adjusted for inflation and population, have either risen slightly in the past five years or declined slightly, depending on the measure used;
  • Only about 1 percent of New York’s doctors are enrolled in the state’s program for physicians deemed too risky by commercial insurance providers. Yet these doctors’ payments have been so massive that they and other losses have drowned the program in more than $500 million in red ink this decade;
  • A sliver of doctors are responsible for nearly half of the dollars paid out for medical malpractice in New York. Physicians who made three or more malpractice payments between 1990 and 2006 — accounting for no more than 4 percent of New York’s doctors — were responsible for nearly half (49.6 percent) of medical malpractice dollars paid out on behalf of doctors in the time period.
  • Costs for cases involving brain damage, blamed by some for rising insurance rates, are in fact modest in comparison with other types of cases. The category for injuries including brain damage ranks 5th of 10 in total amounts paid out. This fact exposes the lunacy of the radical proposal to deprive newborn babies of their legal rights and cede their care to a state-run fund.
  • Researchers have found that premiums consistently make up only a small percentage of doctors’ total expenses and that rising premiums have not, historically, depressed physicians’ incomes.

Has any of this stopped the doctor’s lobby from claiming that hitting victims a second time, by depriving them of a right to fully recovery, will help? Of course not. The only real questions are these:

Full disclosure: I have lobbied New York’s legislators several times in the past to keep the courthouse doors open for the injured, and am currently scheduled for a return visit in May with the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

Addendum – see also:

  • Patient Safety Express (The PopTort):

    “Only 4% of New York’s doctors are responsible for half of all of the state’s medical malpractice payouts. How many more people have to be infected by deadly diseases, or killed by incompetent practitioners before the state will act?”

  • Patient Safety Express, Day Two (The PopTort):

    This morning, the “Patient Safety Express” made its way to Albany. The 15-foot syringe and handful more medical malpractice survivors made it through the metal detectors at the State Capitol to tell their stories to the media….

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