Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Nation's Capital Latest to Attempt Tort Reform

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Nation's Capital Latest to Attempt Tort Reform

Article excerpt

The District of Columbia is the latest in a growing number of jurisdictions trying to combat rising malpractice insurance premiums among physicians, as legislators there battle over whether the best solution is damage caps or increased regulation of insurers.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has proposed legislation that would limit noneconomic damages to $250,000 and expand the city's Good Samaritan law to provide immunity to all health professionals who provide free care.

"The District is home to some of the best medical care in the country," Mayor Williams said when he announced the bill. "This bill is all about ensuring that our residents and visitors always get top-notch care and that our medical community can practice without undue burdens."

Linda Cropp, chair of the District of Columbia City Council and a frequent political adversary of Mr. Williams, has introduced her own medical liability reform bill. Under Ms. Cropp's bill, the city's insurance commission would be required to approve all proposed liability premium increases that exceed a certain percentage, would allow the insurance commissioner to consider a malpractice insurer's current surplus as a factor in rate making, and would authorize refunds for physicians who have paid excessive insurance premiums.

Unlike Mr. Williams, Ms. Cropp said she believed that tort reform wasn't the answer. "The problem is the high [cost] of insurance," she said in a statement. "Payments to patients who sue doctors in the District have declined dramatically, even as doctors and politicians have blamed sky-rocketing jury awards for driving up the cost of malpractice insurance and driving doctors out of business."

Ms. Cropp cited a recent analysis by the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen to back up her contention. That analysis found that insurer payouts in the city, when factored for inflation, dropped from $29 million in 2001 to $11 million in 2004, a reduction of more than 62%.

"Did the malpractice insurance rates paid by doctors drop commensurately?" Ms. Cropp asked. "No, they did not."

But Victor G. Freeman, M.D., president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, disagreed with Ms. Cropp's approach. "Linda Cropp's heart is in the right place," Dr. Freeman, an internist, said in an interview. "She recognizes there is a crisis, and her solution is to make sure there is tighter regulation around medical liability rates in town. Unfortunately, I think she's been misled by Public Citizen and the trial lawyers, because she believes medical liability companies are making huge profits in the city at the expense of physicians."

Dr. Freeman suggested that Ms. …

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