The consumer watchdog group Public Citizen has just released a report debunking what it considers a myth that medical malpractice payments are responsible for the soaring cots of healthcare.

For the past several years, medical malpractice awards and defensive medicine have been blamed as the biggest cost driver in medicine. However, the cost of medical care has continued to rise even though records show that both the frequency of malpractice payments and the amounts paid out have dropped every single year for the last decade.

According to Public Citizen, even at the highest point, actual malpractice payments amounted to just a quarter of one percent of overall health care costs. From 2003 to 2012, medical malpractice payments dropped by almost 29% while national healthcare spending increased by more than 58%.


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Furthermore, according to Public Citizen, there is no evidence that the decline in medical malpractice payments is due to better or safer medical care. In fact, the group cited three major studies from 2010 and 2011 on preventable medication errors showing numbers at least as bad as those brought to light by the 1999 Institute of Medicine report – “To Err is Human.”

 One 2010 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that one out of seven Medicare patients in hospital care suffered a serious adverse event and 44% of these events were preventable. Another 2010 study of patients in North Carolina hospitals found that 18% suffered adverse events and that 63% of those were avoidable. 

A 2011 study found that errors or adverse events occur in nearly one in three hospital admissions. So, while errors still occur, malpractice reform has only served to cut back on payouts by practitioners and hospitals, as evidenced by the falling malpractice payment rates. However, the cost of healthcare continues to skyrocket, according to Public Citizen.

“The divergence between healthcare costs and medical malpractice litigation affirms what critics of imposing malpractice litigation restrictions have said all along: That litigation is not to blame for rising costs or inadequate access to care,” commented Taylor Lincoln, Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.