WASHINGTON – Three percent of Maryland doctors were responsible for half of the malpractice payouts in the state from 1990 to 2002, according to an advocacy group that called for the revocation of those “dangerous doctors'” licenses.
The report by Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, blames the state medical society and the Maryland Physician Board, which licenses doctors, for failing to remove negligent doctors.
The report said Maryland was 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia “for the frequency at which it takes serious disciplinary actions against doctors for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses or other offenses.”
It was released Thursday, less than a week before a Wednesday rally in Annapolis that is expected to draw as many as 2,000 doctors to protest the rising cost of malpractice insurance premiums.
“We put this report out to try and help people understand the real malpractice crisis is the problem of dangerous doctors continuing to operate in Maryland,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, which issued the report.
But the executive director of MedChi, the state medical society, said rising insurance premiums are not the fault of doctors. Michael Preston also questioned the accuracy of the National Practitioner Data Bank, the federal database that Public Citizen used for its report.
“We just think that the National Practitioner Data Bank is very unreliable. And we are not sure why,” he said.
Preston, whose group represents 6,500 physicians statewide, said annual malpractice insurance premiums range from $10,000 to $120,000 per doctor depending on specialty, costs that are driving some doctors out of the business.
He blamed the high prices on the size of malpractice settlements, which is why MedChi wants the legislature to change the way settlements are calculated and to lower the cap on pain and suffering judgments from the current $630,000 to $350,000.
The report, “Dangerous Maryland Doctors,” said 576 doctors were responsible for 1,506 of the 2,967 malpractice payouts in the state from 1990 to 2002. Those cases accounted for $317.3 million of the $653.4 million paid out, just under half of the total payouts.
It said that 10 percent of all doctors in the state were subject to at least one malpractice payout in the period. The 3 percent in question had two or more malpractice losses.
But Preston said that penalizing doctors solely on the number of times they make malpractice payments is unfair, because juries often award settlements to patients for “pain and suffering,” despite the medical evidence.
“Even if a doctor has very, very strong defenses, and that is to say, the medicine supports what he did, but is faced with ruinous damages, out of sympathy, the jury awards to the plaintiff,” Preston said.
Public Citizen argued that a cap on damages is not the answer.
The report said that if “efforts were made to redirect repeat-offender doctors into less-risky practice areas, or out of practice altogether, the savings in insurance premiums could far exceed any savings that might come from damage caps.”
The Maryland Board of Physicians, which the report blamed along with MedChi for failing to identify negligent doctors, defended its actions.
“We even initiate investigations where there’s three claims in a five-year period. So, we think we are actually going above in terms of investigations,” said board Executive Director Irving Pinder.
He refused to be drawn into the argument over malpractice reform.
“We are here to protect the public, not to get in the middle of an argument of malpractice caps,” Pinder said,.
“Public Citizen has a point by saying: ‘If we can get more bad doctors out of the physician community, it will help,'” he said. “But I think you also have to take the reality that we live in a very legalized world.”