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Medical Malpractice: Implications of Rising Premiums on Access to Health Care

GAO-03-836 Published: Aug 08, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 29, 2003.
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The recent rising cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums in many states has reportedly influenced some physicians to move or close practices, reduce high-risk services, or alter their practices to preclude potential lawsuits (known as defensive medicine practices). States have revised tort laws under which malpractice lawsuits are litigated to help constrain malpractice premium and claims costs. Some of these tort reform laws include caps on monetary penalties for noneconomic harm, such as for plaintiffs' pain and suffering. Congress is considering legislation similar to some states' tort reform laws. GAO examined how health care provider responses to rising malpractice premiums have affected access to health care, whether physicians practice defensive medicine, and how growth in malpractice premiums and claims payments compares across states with varying tort reform laws. Because national data on providers' responses to rising premiums are not reliable, GAO examined the experiences in five states with reported malpractice-related problems (Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and West Virginia) and four states without reported problems (California, Colorado, Minnesota, and Montana) and analyzed growth in malpractice premiums and claims payments across all states and the District of Columbia.

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Data collectionHealth care servicesHospital care servicesInsurance cost controlInsurance premiumsLiability insuranceMalpractice (medical)PhysiciansState lawTortsAccess to health careTort reform