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Malpractice Premiums, Rate of C-Sections Rise Together
Date:5/5/2008

Which one drives the other a matter of debate, experts say

MONDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- As medical malpractice premiums increase, so do the rates of Caesarean sections, new research shows.

The study provides a small snapshot of the association, drawing on data from the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. The findings, while not national in scope, could further fuel the debate about whether higher malpractice rates boost the C-section rates, or visa versa.

"When I compared the malpractice rates to C-section rates prior to 1999, both were declining at a similar rate," says study author Dr. Jeffrey V. Spencer, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow at UConn. From 1999 to 2005, however, both were increasing.

The study was scheduled to be presented Monday at the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists annual meeting, in New Orleans.

Spencer and his team reviewed the center's perinatal database from 1991 to 2005, noting how many vaginal deliveries and how many C-sections took place. They got the average malpractice rates from the primary carrier at their institution and adjusted them for inflation over the years.

"I can't say one led to the other or vice-versa," Spencer said. But he speculates the medical malpractice rates are driving up the C-section rates. "The theory is, doctors are practicing more defensive medicine. Maybe doctors are fearful of litigation,'' he added, perhaps likely to decide on a C-section at the first sign of any potential problems.

In all, 23 percent (15,021) of the 64,767 deliveries studied were C-sections. Spencer's team also looked at first and repeat C-sections and compared those with the average malpractice premiums by year and found a relationship between increased malpractice rates and both first and repeat C-sections.

In a second study, Spencer and his colleagues looked at the impact of increasing malpractice rates on
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