NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 18, 2005

Surging insurance premiums have spurred lawmakers across the country -- primarily Republicans -- to limit noneconomic damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits, says James Dao of the New York Times.

Tort reformers say that, unless something is done to curb punitive damage awards, health care will become unaffordable for many Americans. Moreover, the threat of litigation will cause shortages in the provision of certain health care services that have been particularly hard hit by lawsuits:

  • The American Medical Association says that nearly 20 states are facing malpractice crises, with insurance premiums rising by 50 percent or more in the last two years.
  • In some regions, soaring premiums have led doctors to stop delivering vital services and even to quit their jobs.
  • Every year, consumers pay $28 to $40 billion in added health care fees as a result of malpractice litigation.
  • From 2000 to 2002, malpractice fees have risen nationally by 15 percent.

Some also suggest that doctors have responded to the threat of litigation by practicing defensive medicine, which involves unnecessary and costly procedures to avoid lawsuits.

Lawmakers in Florida, Maryland, Mississippi and Nevada have passed some form of cap on noneconomic damages stemming from medical malpractice lawsuits. Elsewhere, Kentucky, Oregon and Pennsylvania have defeated similar measures to curb litigation in their states.

Source: James Dao, "A Push in States to Curb Malpractice Costs," New York Times, January 14, 2004.

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