Oregon public broadcasting recently announced that medical malpractice insurance rates are dropping in Oregon. Based upon statistics from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, rates have dropped more than 18 percent over the last four years. Lisa Morawski of the Department issued a statement that said rates drop when claims go down. Apparently the phenomenon is not just happening in Oregon. Washington has also seen a double digit decline in rates, as well as a decrease in the number of lawsuits. Consumer advocates credit the decline with improvements in patient care, such as computerized medical records. And for those thinking it must just be a west coast thing, states across the country are seeing similar drops. Iowa has seen big dips in rates for physicians and hospitals. Iowa Insurance Commissioner Sue Voss said that Midwest Medical Insurance Company (MMCI) is reducing physician base rates by 9.6% for 2008. MMCI is a Minneapolis based physician-owned insurance company and the largest writer of medical malpractice insurance in Iowa. So too in Pennsylvania. Governor Rendell cited new statistics recently that show a 41 percent decline in medical malpractice lawsuits statewide since early in the decade. Gov. Rendell said recently that efforts to address Pennsylvania’s malpractice insurance crisis had curbed the rise in premiums for doctors and given patients better access to care. And it wasn’t because the legislature or the voters decided to cap damages for victims or make it more difficult to hire an attorney. Changes were made to Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice laws, such as requiring a certificate of merit from another doctor to show a case was valid before filing suit, among others. Mark Phenicie, legislative counsel for the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, said his members were satisfied with the changes because there were no longer calls for caps on damages – something that some lawmakers had called for to rein in awards. "The report shows with absolutely no spin that medical malpractice is certainly stabilized," Phenicie said. "But the most egregious cases can still be tried or settled." So what happened in Oregon and Washington? Why are claims dropping in the northwest, as they have been doing for a number of years? A better question is why are so many still clinging to the myth that there’s a malpractice crisis driving doctors out of state and we need to pass more laws making it difficult for victims to recover. But myths don’t go away easily. And the companies who would benefit from tort reform laws don’t seem to be making any announcements that their ideas are no longer needed.
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