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Senators Santorum and Frist deceptive in urging medical malpractice reform, ATLA accuses.

In spite of the United States Senate’s recent rejection of proposed medical malpractice reform, Senators Rick Santorum and Bill Frist were recently in Scranton again urging such reform. The American Trial Lawyers Association, whose stated goals are promoting justice for injured persons, defending the right to jury trials, and strengthening the civil justice system by disclosing information critical to public health and safety, issued a statement accusing the two senators of hypocrisy and deception.

After stating that the senators’ real reason for urging reform was to obtain campaign contributions, primarily from the insurance industry, the press release noted that Santorum was attempting to curb the rights of Pennsylvanians despite the fact that his wife had successfully sued her chiropractor for medical malpractice. ATLA also accused the pair of ignoring mounting evidence that malpractice insurance rates were rising because of price gouging by the insurance industry and not by lawsuits filed injured patients. (The statement noted that an insurance firm controlled by the Frist family was one of the most blatant price gougers.) ATLA noted a study by the Institute of Medicine that between 44,000 and 98,000 citizens die each year from medical negligence.

ATLA accused Santorum and Frist of ignoring various data and studies that showed that the justifications for medical malpractice reform could not withstand critical scrutiny. With regard to the claim that numerous lawsuits were driving up costs, the “reformers” ignored statistics release by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the number of medical malpractice cases filed had dropped 35% between 2000 (2632 filings) and 2005 (1698 filings). In fact, those statistics also showed that in Lackawanna County, where the pair had appeared, filings dropped 50% over that same period (71 to 35).

It is often claimed that reform is needed because Americans and Pennsylvanians are being denied access to health care. This claim, however, is refuted by a 2003 study of the Government Accountability Office that found “many of the reported provider actions taken in response to malpractice pressures were not substantiated or did not widely affect access to health care….”

ATLA’a main claim that Santorum and Frist were being dishonest was with regard to their assertion that their proposed reform would reduce malpractice insurance costs. The press release noted a number of different matters. First, a 2005 study by Public Citizen showed that the number a medical malpractice payments of behalf of physicians fell by 13% between 2001 and 2004 and that adjusted for inflation, average malpractice payments had increased less that 2% a year between 1991 and 2004. Second, a 2005 study by the Missouri insurance commissioner found that the 15 largest medical malpractice insurers had increased premiums between 2001 and 2004 by 120% in spite of the fact that payouts had increased by less than 6%. Incredibly, the insurer controlled by the Frist family had increased its premiums by 88% between 2000 and 2004 despite a corresponding 32% drop in claim payments. Finally, ATLA noted a number of statements from insurance industry executives that the proposed reform would not lead to a reduction insurance premiums.

Sources: ATLA, Public Citizen, Government Accountability Office, Institute of Medicine