PA. MALPRACTICE Public citizen alters claim about payouts

A Pennsylvania Medical Society spokesman calls for an apology from the group.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A self-styled consumer watchdog group has backed off earlier claims that Pennsylvania has the highest rate in the nation of repeated doctor payouts in medical malpractice cases, calling the data inconclusive Wednesday.
The reversal by Public Citizen, a Washington-based group founded by 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader, prompted the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which had disputed the findings, to demand an apology.
In a January study, Public Citizen said that 10.6 percent of Pennsylvania's 39,000 doctors had paid off at least two malpractice lawsuit claims or settlements -- a rate that topped the nation. Moreover, the group said, 4.7 percent of the state's doctors paid off three or more malpractice lawsuits -- accounting for more than half of all monetary payouts awarded in Pennsylvania's liability cases.
Possible overcount
But Public Citizen now says that information was gleaned from a national database that tracks medical malpractice payouts, but which may have overcounted Pennsylvania statistics.
"A small portion of malpractice claims may have resulted in duplicate payouts," Neal Pattison, research director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, said in a statement issued in response to calls for clarification by The Associated Press. Therefore, Pattison said, "the number of duplicate payouts cannot be calculated precisely with the information now in its database."
Public Citizen now says that at least 5.4 percent of Pennsylvania doctors have paid off at least two malpractice claims -- accounting for 52.5 percent of all payouts in the state. At least 2 percent of doctors paid off at least three cases, the group says.
The new numbers would rank Pennsylvania below other states with repeat doctor payouts in malpractice cases.
Public Citizen's report was released Jan. 15, on the eve of a trip by President Bush to Scranton, Pa., where he renewed his call to cap jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 in noneconomic, or "pain and suffering," payouts. Public Citizen opposes capping noneconomic jury awards.
Chuck Moran, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, called for Public Citizen to apologize for releasing what he termed "deliberately deceiving" information.