ATLA Takes On The President

ATLA CEO Jon Haber’s Statement in Response to Bush’s Attacks Today on the Civil Justice System

(Washington, DC)-ATLA CEO Jon Haber issued the following statement in response to Bush’s attacks today on the civil justice system:

“It would take the President less than a minute to discover the number of physicians is on the rise, not declining, and that the reason for inflated malpractice insurance premiums is directly attributable to insurance industry greed. Bush carelessly throws around terms like ‘junk lawsuits.’ But the civil justice system he is attacking protects families who lose children as the result of medical negligence and patients who suffer devastating injuries — all of whom deserve accountability. So it appears the ‘plethora of lawsuits’ the President referred to must be buried out there somewhere with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

The following are the facts:

AMA Data: The Number of Physicians Up Nearly 90 Percent Since 1980. According to data from the American Medical Association, the number of physicians is up nearly 90 percent since 1980 – from 467,679 to 884,974 in 2004.[1] In addition, the number of emergency room doctors has increased from 5,699 in 1980 to 27,864 in 2004 – an increase of 388 percent.[2] The number of OB-GYNs has increased by nearly 60 percent – from 26,305 in 1980 to 42,059 in 2004.[3] The number of neurosurgeons has also increased by nearly 60 percent – from 3,341 in 1980 to 5,288 in 2004.[4] Over the same time period, the total U.S. population increased by only 29 percent – from 227.7 million in 1980 to 293.9 million in 2004.[5]

CBO: Savings from Reducing “Defensive Medicine” Would be “Very Small.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “… some so-called defensive medicine may be motivated less by liability concerns than by the income it generates for physicians or by the positive (albeit small) benefits to patients. On the basis of existing studies and its own research, CBO believes that savings from reducing defensive medicine would be very small.”[6]

GAO: The “Prevalence” and “Costs” Associated with “Defensive Medicine” Have Not Been “Reliably Measured.” According to the Government Accountability Office, “[p]ysicians reportedly practice defensive medicine in certain clinical situations, thereby contributing to health care costs; however, the overall prevalence and costs of such practices have not been reliably measured. Studies designed to measure physicians’ defensive medicine practices examined physician behavior in specific clinical situations, such as treating elderly Medicare patients with certain heart conditions. Given their limited scope, the study results cannot be generalized to estimate the extent and cost of defensive medicine practices across the health care system. … Recent surveys of physicians indicate that many practice defensive medicine, but limitations to these surveys suggest caution in interpreting and generalizing the results.”[7]

Study Shows that Leading Medical Malpractice Insurers are Price-Gouging Doctors. A study[8] of medical malpractice insurers entitled “Falling Claims and Rising Premiums in the Medical Malpractice Insurance Industry” has found that insurance companies have been price-gouging doctors by drastically raising their insurance premiums, even though claims payments have been flat, or in some cases decreasing. The study, conducted by former Missouri Insurance Commissioner Jay Angoff for the Center for Justice and Democracy, a consumer advocacy organization, compiled data from the 2004 annual reports of the 15 largest insurance companies, which are filed under oath with state insurance departments. According to the insurance companies’ own numbers:

?コ Between 2000 and 2004, the amount malpractice insurers collected from doctors in premiums more than doubled, while their claims payouts have remained essentially flat. The malpractice carriers analyzed in the report collectively increased their net premiums by 120.2 percent during this time period, although their net claims payments rose by only 5.7 percent. Thus, they increased their premiums by 21 times the increase in their claims payments.

?コ During this time, even industry projections of claims they plan to pay out in the future – their justification for higher premiums – have decreased.

?コ Leading insurers increased their surpluses by a third – to a level far above what is recommended by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

The Bush Justice Department: The Number of Federal Tort Trials is Down Nearly 80 Percent Since 1985. The Bush Justice Department reported last year that the number of tort (personal injury) cases resolved in U.S. District Courts fell by 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. In 1985, 3,600 tort trials were decided by a judge or jury in U.S. District Courts. By 2003, that number had dropped to less than 800.[9]

The Bush Justice Department: The Number of State Tort Trials is Decreasing. According to the most recent data from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of tort trials at the state level has decreased. These statistics were compiled as part of the Bureau’s survey of state civil justice systems in the nation’s largest 75 counties. Among these counties, the number of tort trials decreased 31.8 percent between 1992 and 2001.[10]

[1] “Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S.,” American Medical Association, 2006 edition, p.312

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] U.S. Census Bureau data, 2005pubs/06statab/pop.pdf

[6] Ibid

[7] “Medical Malpractice: Implications of Rising Premiums on Access to Health Care,” GAO, 9/29/03,

[8] “Falling Claims and Rising Premiums in the Medical Malpractice Insurance Industry,” Jay Angoff, 7/05;

[9] “Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts, 2002-03”, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 8/17/05

[10] “Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001”, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4/04