Report on medical malpractice reforms in reveals that Pennsylvanians are not losing their doctors.

Physician groups and liability insurance companies continue to claim that Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice legal liability system is driving doctors out of the state. In spite of reforms enacted by both the Legislature and Supreme Court in 2002, these proponents of tort reform argue that more needs to be done to reduce medical malpractice insurance premiums to stop the “exodus” of doctors. However, a recent report commissioned and funded by the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) reveals that many of the claims of tort reformers are simply untrue.

Neil Vidmar, a professor of law at Duke Law School, authored a report for the PBA entitled “Medical Malpractice Litigation in Pennsylvania” that makes a number of finding that run counter to the claims of tort reformers. Professor Vidmar analyzes various statistics of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the American Medical Association and the Federation of State Licensing Boards and concludes that the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s 2005 claim that “one in four Pennsylvanians lost their doctors due to the rising costs of medical insurance is not true. In absolute terms, Pennsylvania had 27,401 licensed practicing physicians in 1994; in 2004, that number was 33,000. Moreover, Pennsylvania has 8.9% more doctors per capita than the national average, ranking tenth overall among the fifty states in this regard. Professor Vidmar acknowledges that the number of obstetrician-gynecologists in Pennsylvania has dropped between 1998 and 2004; however, he also notes an even larger percentage decline in live births, thus theorizing that the absolute decrease in the number of obstetrician-gynecologists is the based upon the declining birth rate resulting from Pennsylvania’s aging population. As the report states, “Even considering the possibility that some physicians may have decided to abandon certain high-risk procedures, the claim that one in four Pennsylvanians lost their doctors seems unsupportable on its face. It is possible that some doctors have left the state and residents moved to other states but, if so, they were replaced by other doctors.”

Professor Vidmar also challenges the assertion of reformers that caps on pain and suffering damages are necessary. He points to numerous studies showing that such caps have little or nor effect on malpractice insurance premiums. The report also raises the question of fairness. As Professor Vidmar notes, “In most of the public discussion about medical malpractice reform, little or no attention has been given to the plight of patients who are injured through medical negligence.” It is pointed out that California imposed a cap of $250,000 over thirty years ago and that in 2005 dollars, that figure would be $899,281. As Professor Vidmar states, “What the California legislature decided was fair compensation in 1975 has, in real terms, been reduced by 72%. This insight adds to the issue of whether the cap if fair.” Moreover, in addition to the proposed caps being too low, the report reiterated other studies that found that caps tend to discriminate against those women, the elderly, and those individuals who suffered the most severe injuries as a result of negligent health care. 

Source: Pennsylvania Bar Association