Two volleys were fired last week in the growing battle over malpractice insurance premiums, which is either a looming national crisis or a public-relations scam orchestrated by physicians, depending on the diametrically opposed arguments.
On one side, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), responding to skyrocketing premiums among his physician-constituents, announced he would sponsor tort-reform legislation that would cap noneconomic medical-malpractice damage awards at $250,000. The legislation, which the first-term lawmaker acknowledged has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, mirrors a California law enacted in 1975.
On the same day, a survey released by two consumer-advocacy groups said California's malpractice law, widely credited with holding down the cost of doctors' insurance premiums, actually has had the opposite effect.
From 1991 to 2000, the average insurance premium for California doctors grew 3.5%, slightly more than the typical increase of just 1.9% for U.S. physicians overall, according to the study by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. The consumer foundation worked with a New York organization called the Center for Justice and Democracy on the study.
"California is a failed model for the national restrictions being proposed on patients," said Jamie Court, executive director of the not-for-profit education and advocacy group.
The California Medical Association, which represents about 34,000 doctors, disputes the figures in the study, calling it part of an effort to thwart attempts in Congress to provide similar tort-reform laws.