Report says litigation not to blame for high healthcare costs

Report says litigation not to blame for high healthcare costsPhoto used with permission from

Medical malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors fell to a historic low in 2012, according to a newly released report from advocacy group Public Citizen.

The report analyzed data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank, which has tracked malpractice payments since the fall of 1990.

Among the report's key findings:

  • The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,379) was the lowest on record in 2012, falling for the ninth consecutive year.
  • The value of payments made on behalf of doctors ($3.1 billion) was the lowest on record if adjusted for inflation. In unadjusted dollars, payments were at their lowest level since 1998.
  • More than four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries.
  • Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s healthcare bill was the lowest on record, falling to about one-tenth of 1 percent (0.11 percent) of national healthcare costs.

  • Medical liability insurance premiums, a broad measure that takes into account defense litigation costs and other factors as well as actual payments, fell to 0.36 of 1 percent of healthcare costs, the lowest level in the past decade.

The report noted that some members of Congress have singled out medical malpractice as the culprit for rising healthcare costs. "For instance, during the healthcare reform debate, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called medical malpractice the 'biggest cost driver' in medicine," Public Citizen said in a news release announcing the report's results.

Public Citizen said that since 2003, medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent, yet national healthcare costs are up 58.2 percent. "If healthcare costs paralleled litigation trends during the past decade, the nation’s healthcare bill in 2012 would have been $1.3 trillion. Instead, it was $2.8 trillion," the organization said in the news release.

The report concluded that the decrease in litigation is most likely due to state laws that have reduced patients’ legal rights rather than it is to improvements in medical care.

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