The American Association for Justice (AAJ), formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, said its analysis of new AMA data “adds to a growing body of research that proves physicians are not fleeing the profession because of medical liability.”
Citing statistics from the AMA’s recently released “Physician Characteristics and Distribution” report, the AAJ observed that the number of physicians in the United States grew steadily during the decade between 1998 and 2007, from 765,922 to 941,304. The increase was evident in every state and doubled the number of doctors per capita since the 1960s.
The lawyers’ analysis also compared states that have placed caps on jury awards for pain and suffering and other noneconomic damages within states that have no limits. Damage caps are designed to avoid ruinous multimillion-dollar awards, thus keeping malpractice insurance premiums at affordable levels.
The number of doctors has risen over the past five years in each of the 50 states, the lawyers’ group says. Only in Alaska, Georgia, Montana, and Utah—all of which have medical malpractice caps—did increases in number of physicians not outpace population growth. Using data from 2007, the analysis concludes that states without caps actually have more doctors per 100,000 (319) than states that set limits (283), a difference of 13%.
“This finding echoes research from The Commonwealth Fund and the American College of Emergency Physicians, which found health-care quality and patient safety are far worse in states that have eliminated accountability through tort reform measures,” the AAJ says in a press release.
Additionally, the analysts pointed out that specialties with the highest liability risk actually attracted more practitioners in recent years. The numbers of neurosurgeons, obstetricians/gynecologists, and emergency department doctors all increased nationally over the past five years.
“These data prove that doctors can practice medicine while patients are protected by a strong civil justice system,” AAJ president Les Weisbrod commented in the statement. “Tort reform does nothing to keep patients safe or provide health care for millions of uninsured Americans.”
The AAJ issued a press release and two bar charts to illustrate the analysis, but it did not release the analysis itself. “Without an actual report, we can’t comment on its conclusions,” states AMA spokesman Kate Cox.