February 20, 2003, in an excellent editorial, the Des Moines Register confirms once again what Wisconsin personal injury attorneys and Wisconsin medical malpractice lawyers have known all along. In Don't blame malpractice suits: Reforming health care takes a lot more than caps on liability awards the editors explaing that it is false to assert that one of the "prime causes" of rising health-care costs is "the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued." The editors further state that:
"The medical-malpractice premiums physicians pay are not as expensive as the public is being led to believe. In 1990, the average physician's salary was $164,300. The average malpractice premium was 8.8 percent of that salary. In 1997, the salary increased to $199,600, and the amount spent on malpractice premiums dropped to 7.1 percent of the salary. Insurance got less expensive in proportion to salary.
Between 1988 and 1998, total U.S. health-care costs increased 74.4 percent. The costs for medical malpractice increased a mere 5.7 percent during the same period."
Certainly, the editors are on track here! See my January 19, 2003 post regading the fact that managed care insurers forced customers into outrageous premium increases and that third-quarter earnings were up 47% on average for 11 major insurers and yet premiums are expected to rise an average of 15.4% this year.
The Des Moines Register editors then explain how the percentage of malpractice suits is dropping and the "number of malpractice claims per doctor dropped between 1998 and 2001."
The editors then conclude that "There's little evidence to support the idea that the threat of lawsuits is a major cause of the inflation in health-care costs. There's even less evidence that federal legislation capping damages in lawsuits will measurably affect those costs."