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Consumer and advocacy groups suggested Thursday that patients have far more to fear from their doctors than the doctors have to fear from trial lawyers. At an Albany, N.Y., press conference, an advocacy coalition called on state and federal lawmakers to reject so-called “tort reform” measures that would make it harder to bring and sustain a malpractice action. Instead, they said, legislators should focus on measures to reduce what they say are needless deaths and injuries attributable to medical errors. They called for state Health Department oversight of outpatient-based surgery, mandatory continued education for physicians and stricter rules on the reporting of medical mistakes. “Thousands of New Yorkers are needlessly killed in hospitals and other health care facilities due to medical mistakes. We think the focus of public policy should be to reduce those unnecessary injuries and deaths,” Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. The Medical Society immediately characterized Horner’s assertions as reckless and misleading. A 15-foot wheelchair was assembled at yesterday’s event in front of Court of Appeals Hall. Patients carried graphic photographs depicting allegedly botched medical procedures. It was the fifth such event statewide, as advocates travel and speak to counter what they say is misinformation disseminated by insurers and the Medical Society of the State of New York. The society is lobbying for tort reform, arguing that an “out of control” civil justice system has forced malpractice premiums to skyrocket and has led to an exodus of physicians, particularly those in high-risk specialties. The doctors’ group would impose new restrictions on the filing of medical malpractice actions, limit damages and initiate other measures to protect physicians from rampant litigation. Horner and other advocates said the perception created by Medical Society and insurance industry lobbyists is demonstrably false. They released data showing that: � Annual request for judicial intervention filings (RJIs) for medical malpractice cases in New York has remained steady over the last decade. The groups cited Office of Court Administration data in reporting that medical malpractice RJIs have ranged from about 4,000 to 4,400 since 1993, with no indication of a major upward trend. � The number of physicians paying malpractice awards annually has remained roughly the same since 1993, even though the total number of physicians has increased considerably. However, total malpractice payments have grown considerably — from $497 million in 1993 to $641 million in 2002. Advocates say that increase mirrors the inflation of medical costs. � The 8.5 percent increase in medical malpractice premiums in July was the first in several years and is consistent with, or even lower than, increases in other insurance premiums. � The number of physicians per capita in New York — 328 per 100,000 population — is among the highest in the nation. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of physicians, generalists and specialists per capita increased, both in metropolitan New York City and outside the metropolitan area. Consequently, advocates say, there is no evidence that doctors are fleeing New York to escape malpractice premiums. “This campaign is about educating the public not to be fear-mongered into supporting bad legislation,” Horner said. “It really is about the rights of injured people to have access to the court system, the legal system.” The Medical Society countered that the advocates’ selective use of data paints an inaccurate picture. “It is,” said Medical Society lobbyist and attorney Gerard L. Conway, “a very myopic view.” Physicians say most doctors are actually paying at least 27 percent more for their liability insurance than they were in 2002, with high-risk specialists paying even more. Dr. Jeffrey A. Ribner, president of the Medical Society, said rates for emergency room physicians on Long Island jumped 84 percent between the 1998-1999 and 2003-2004 policy years. Conway said 60 percent of New York obstetrician-gynecologists have been sued in the last five years and 70 percent of the neurosurgeons have been sued. He said the fact that somewhere between 70 percent and 85 percent of medical malpractice cases are resolved in favor of the physician indicates that an extremely high percentage of the cases never should have been brought. As for additional oversight, Conway said doctors are already scrutinized by their peers far more regularly and far more carefully than lawyers. “The trial lawyers are telling us we are incompetent,” Conway said. “Doctors are reviewed six times before they have their morning cup of coffee.”

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