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  The Medical Malpractice "Crisis" Keeps Coming Back


If the definition of news is that it describes something "new", then the manufactured medical malpractice "crisis" certainly does not qualify. Every ten years or so, a medical malpractice insurance "crisis" is declared, with insurance industry-backed advocates saying the "crisis" necessitates restrictions on jury awards and malpractice victims' rights that never work.

Which begs the question: If caps haven't worked before, why do their proponents insist on rewarding failure?

Medical Malpractice During the Disco Era

  • Cover Story: "Malpractice: Doctors in Revolt"
    Newsweek Magazine (June 9, 1975)

"Like measles in a nursery, doctors strikes seem to be erupting all across the nation. What the doctors are protesting is the skyrocketing cost of their malpractice insurance premiums…Among the most serious results of the malpractice crisis, in the view of most physicians, is the fact that the threat of being sued has led to the practice of 'defensive medicine.'"

Medical Malpractice During the Decade of Greed

  • "Medicine on Trial: The Malpractice Crisis"
    Orlando Sentinel (April 13, 1986)

"Although the number of malpractice claims has almost tripled in the past 10 years, insurance companies exaggerate the number of Florida residents who sue their doctors. They then use the distorted figures to justify charging malpractice premiums that have doubled, in some cases tripled, in three years."

  • "GAO reports insurance industry made billions in midst of 'crisis'"
    Newark NJ Star-Ledger (April 22, 1987)

"Washington—The insurance industry has made billions of dollars in profits during the past decade, a time when it has continually boosted premiums, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report unveiled yesterday."

  • "Insurers Are Arming For Another Rate War"
    Business Week (January 9, 1989)
    1989 Industry Outlook: Finance

"The last cycle of pain began in the early 1980s. Insurers eagerly cut premiums to win huge corporate accounts and invested the money in high yielding bonds, a primary source of their earnings. But the price cutting went too far. Losses mounted, and the ''insurance crisis" of the mid 1980s followed: Carriers jacked up prices, sharply reduced coverage, and just quit offering some types of insurance. That ushered in good times."

Medical Malpractice in the 1990s—The Gingrich Agenda

  • "The Trumped-Up Case Against Damage Awards"
    Business Week (March 20, 1995)

"The House will shortly send to the Senate the tort-reform element of Speaker Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. This is the latest effort in a long crusade based on a supposed crisis of product-liability cases and other tort claims clogging courts, reducing profit margins, increasing insurance costs, enriching lawyers, and otherwise retarding commerce.

"…Another grossly inflated crisis is medical malpractice awards. Medical malpractice insurance amounts to less than 1% of U.S. health costs, and actual awards equal about three tenths of one percent of the nation's total health bill. The claim that doctors are forced to practice ''defensive medicine'' is also a canard. A study by the Office of Technology Assessment found that less than 8% of diagnostic procedures were performed even partly out of concern for malpractice liability."

Republished with the permission of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. (September 2004)