Medical malpractice insurance costs declined by 20% from 1988 to 1991 in real dollars, according to a consumer group that opposes stricter controls over malpractice awards.
The American Medical Association questioned the motives of the group and said the decrease was only temporary.
The fight over malpractice reforms has been simmering on Capitol Hill since the Clinton administration's healthcare reform plan was introduced last year. The Clinton bill does not include several of the most stringent reforms called for by the AMA, most notably caps on awards for "pain and suffering." Most of the alternatives to the Clinton plan have stronger controls on malpractice awards, and the issue is expected to be one of the most difficult to resolve in Congress.
According to the report released by the Washington-based consumer group Citizen Action, malpractice insurance cost all physicians an average of $14,900 in 1991, 20% less than in 1988. The insurance costs also decreased as a percentage of physician practice expense. In 1988, nearly 11.5% of all physician expenses went toward malpractice insurance, but by 1991 that had dropped to below 9%.
"The AMA, the drug manufacturers, and other elements of the medical industry are demanding that consumer rights be drastically reduced as their price for healthcare reform," said Robert Creamer, executive director of Citizen Action's Illinois affiliate. "Yet, the study clearly documents that there is no so-called malpractice crisis."
In a written statement, AMA President-elect Robert McAfee, M.D., contended that Citizen Action is financed by trial lawyers who do not want curbs on the size of malpractice awards. Citizen Action has denied previous allegations that its studies are influenced by such considerations.
Dr. McAfee also said the decrease in malpractice costs was only temporary.
"The number of claims and the average size of awards are on the rise and are sure to drive up the cost of liability premiums," Dr. McAfee said.