|(1/13/2004) -- Pennsylvania Citizens for Fairness (PCF), a non-partisan coalition dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals injured by anotherâ€™s malpractice or negligence, today thanked the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court for ordering all sixty of the stateâ€™s judicial districts to collect data on the number of medical malpractice cases filed in their jurisdictions. The order, which the Associated Press reported was issued last week, directed local court officials to not only monitor new cases as they come in, but also go back and review and report on the number of medical-malpractice claims filed in the past four years. [Associated Press, 1/12/04]
For years, doctors and other proponents of a flat cap on non-economic damages have argued that a dramatic increase in the number of medical malpractice filings and in awards was driving insurance rates higher. However, as this order from the Supreme Court indicates, there is no way to support such a claim because there is no central entity or agency that tracks malpractice filings across the state. As the Philadelphia Daily News reported in December, "many larger counties -- Bucks, Erie, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lackawanna, Montgomery -- apparently donâ€™t track the number of med-mal suits filed…." [Philadelphia Daily News, 12/11/03]
While there is evidence that the counties that do track medical malpractice filings have seen dramatic drops in the number of cases in the years since the Legislature enacted several changes to the legal system - there has been a 61 percent drop in cases filed in Philadelphia - there needs to be consistent, credible reporting of the cases across Pennsylvania. It is the only way decision makers can make informed policy choices. [Philadelphia Daily News, 12/11/03]
Unfortunately, the number of medical malpractice cases filed is not the only piece of information decision makers do not have at the same time they are being asked to amend the Commonwealthâ€™s Constitution to permit the imposition of an arbitrary cap on compensation. Currently, decision makers also do not know:
1) The number of Pennsylvania doctors and their specialties. Although new data reveals that the Commonwealth has seen an increase of over 1,000 in the number of doctors practicing in recent years, no entity - not MCare, the Department of State, the Pennsylvania Medical Society or any other state or federal entity -- keeps reliable data on the number of doctors practicing in Pennsylvania by specialty. It is therefore impossible to verify or otherwise support any claims that "Type A" or "Type B" of physicians are "fleeing" the state because of high medical malpractice awards.
2) The amount paid out annually in non-economic damages. For the argument that caps will lower doctorsâ€™ medical malpractice rates to be true, there must be a significant percentage of overall medical malpractice payments that go for non-economic damages. However, no agency or entity collects information about how much is paid out in non-economic damages annually, how many of those judgments are above $250,000 or even what percentage of total payments for medical malpractice are comprised of compensation for non-economic damages. Therefore, it is impossible to accurately determine what effect a cap on non-economic damages might have.
3) The number of preventable medical errors committed in Pennsylvania hospitals or the names of the doctors who committed them. The doctors and hospitals in Pennsylvania have strenuously fought against increasing disclosure of preventable medical errors and the doctors who commit them. It is indisputable that some patients are hurt because of preventable medical errors, but it is impossible to tell how big of a problem these errors are because no one tracks them. Without tracking and analyzing them, it is virtually impossible to reduce their number.