Some still argue that high payments in medical malpractice lawsuits drive up the cost of health care, but an examination of the facts shows that this claim is false.
Between 2000 and 2011, health care spending increased by 97 percent, but the value of medical malpractice payments decreased by 12 percent. Research shows that total medical malpractice payments have continued to decrease, that such payments account for a small percentage of health care costs and that most payments are for very serious injuries.
The nonprofit group Public Citizen reviews data on medical malpractice cases each year. In its most recent report, for 2011, the group found that medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf had dropped for the eighth consecutive year, and had reached their lowest level since 1991.
In 2013, medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf accounted for only 0.12 percent of national health care costs.
According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, 80 percent of 2011 medical malpractice payments compensated victims for serious injuries such as brain damage, quadriplegia, injuries requiring lifelong care and death.
Medical errors are a serious problem with grave consequences. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Medicare patients experience a serious adverse event that is preventable each year. In 80,000 of those cases, the error contributed to the patient’s death. In contrast, only 9,758 medical malpractice payments were made on doctors’ behalf in 2011 — all leading Public Citizen to conclude that most medical malpractice errors do not result in litigation.