Trends in Medical Malpractice—What You Need to Know Now

For many—but not all—doctors, medical malpractice insurance premiums have decreased or held steady over the past several years. That’s what researchers reported in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. And both the frequency and the amount of medical malpractice payments have dropped in recent years, the study shows.

To assess medical malpractice trends, researchers examined 10 years of data from five states—California, Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, and New York. From 2002 through 2013, the number of paid claims per 1,000 physicians decreased from 18.9 to 9.9.

There was some good news regarding claims payments, as well. After rising significantly from 1994 until 2007, median indemnity, or the amount paid per claim, began to drop. In 2013, the median indemnity payment was $195,000, compared to $218,400 in 2007.

But despite fewer paid claims and a decrease in the median indemnity payment amount, medical malpractice insurance premiums were not always lower, researchers report. While some states, such as California, Illinois, and Tennessee, saw overall rate decreases for internists, general surgeons, and ob-gyns, the picture was mixed in Colorado. There, premiums dropped by 20 percent for internists but rose 13 percent for general surgeons and 11 percent for ob-gyns. And in New York, the state’s largest med-mal insurer increased rates for internists (up 16 percent), general surgeons (up 35 percent), and ob-gyns (up 12 percent).

In other malpractice-related news, California voters recently defeated Proposition 46, which would have raised the state’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases from $250,000 to $1.1 million. If the cap had been raised, indemnity payments would have risen, as well, according to a study released by Health Affairs. The average indemnity payment would have increased by about 20 percent, with even greater increases for indemnity payments in cases involving obstetrics and pediatrics, said lead study author Seth Seabury, associate professor of research at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and the Keck School of Medicine at USC. It’s likely that higher indemnity payments would have ultimately led to an increase in malpractice insurance premiums.

According to authors of the study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, communication-and-resolution programs and apology laws show promise for medical malpractice reform. And as the Health Affairs study shows, traditional reforms such as caps on noneconomic damages have also helped kept indemnity payments from spiraling higher.

Are your medical malpractice premiums in line with these trends? If you are concerned about your premiums, contact us at The Doctors Insurance Agency. We have more than 24 years of experience and a deep understanding of the complexities of medical malpractice insurance. We work closely with underwriters, and we know which discounts and endorsements may apply to reduce your premium. To benefit from our insurance insights and learn about premium savings opportunities, call us today at 800-553-9293.

 

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