The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Medical Association, and their various lobbyists have been screaming for years that medical malpractice law suits are driving up doctors’ insurance premiums, and, in turn driving doctors out of certain markets. If this is true, then a state like Massachusetts, which ranks fourth in the nation for money paid to settle malpractice cases, should be experiencing skyrocketing malpractice premiums. Interestingly, a recent Suffolk University Law School study shows that despite assertions that high malpractice rates are driving them out of the state, Massachusetts doctors are paying less than they were in 1990, after adjusting for inflation. I wish I could say the same for my legal malpractice, automobile, and health insurance.
Massachusetts is one of 21 states described by the American Medical Association as being in a crisis because of high medical malpractice payments and lack of strict laws capping settlements.
The Suffolk study, appearing in the current issue of Health Affairs, debunks this cry wolf strategy, finding that most Massachusetts physicians paid an average of $17,810 in premiums in 2005, a little lower than the $17,907 that the same coverage would have cost in 1990, after adjusting for inflation.
“If you don’t find a crisis here, you’re probably not going to find one nationally,” lead author and health policy scholar Marc Rodwin said in an interview. “Clearly there are some increases in premiums and high premiums for a small percentage of doctors in three specialty groups, but that’s entirely different for the rest of doctors.”
Having for years used the false premise of skyrocketing premiums as their rationale for tort reform, the doctors are now back pedaling. One doctor was quoted in the Boston Globe in response to the Suffolk study. “The issue of the malpractice crisis is not purely a premium-based issue, although we certainly have documented the high cost of liability insurance is a major factor in [physicians’] perspective on the practice environment,” he said. “I think to some degree looking at malpractice premiums . . . may provide an unfair picture of what is really going on.” Haven’t they been saying for years that it was fair to look at malpractice premiums and that the sky was falling?