Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Compensate Victims of Serious Mistakes and Do Not Contribute to Higher Health Care Costs

Medical malpractice lawsuits serve at least two beneficial purposes:

· They provide financial compensation to victims of preventable medical errors

· They can expose and end practices by hospitals and medical providers that contributed to a particular medical error, so no other individual has to suffer from the same mistake.

What medical malpractice lawsuits do not do, however, is make the cost of medical care higher, despite oft-repeated claims to the contrary.

The latest proof of this comes from a just-released study from Public Citizen, which promotes consumers’ interests before the federal government. The study finds no link between medical malpractice lawsuit compensation and an upward push on medical costs. And far from “frivolous,” the study shows that over 60 percent of medical malpractice payments in 2012 went to patients who suffered brain damage, major permanent injury, quadriplegia, and death, from medication errors, hospital mistakes, and other forms of medical malpractice.

The authors point out that, since 2003, the amount and number of payments to victims of medical malpractice have decreased every year, with the number of payments hitting an all-time low in 2012. So, per proponents of patients’ rights, medical care costs should have fallen in a similar fashion.

But that didn’t happen.

According to the study, the cost of health care in this country since 2003 has risen 58.3 percent while medical malpractice litigation costs have fallen 28.8 percent. If medical costs followed the same downward trend as medical malpractice compensation, the study says that in 2012 the cost of the nation’s health care should have been $1.3 trillion. The actual cost came in at $2.8 trillion.

The authors examined the pay for physicians in six practice areas – anesthesiology, cardiology, general surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology, and radiology – and the pay of health care CEOS from 2003 to 2013. They found that the pay for CEOs and for all but two practice specialties well-exceeded inflation, and suggest this financial compensation was a key factor in driving up health care costs, not the compensation provided to those who have suffered from medical errors.