Malpractice Insurance Fees Threaten Health Care State Task Force to Examine Issue

By Williams, Dave | The Florida Times Union, September 10, 2002 | Go to article overview

Malpractice Insurance Fees Threaten Health Care State Task Force to Examine Issue


Williams, Dave, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Doctors retiring early, hospitals shutting their doors and small businesses dropping health coverage for their workers.

All three are described as major threats to Georgians' access to health care, and they're all happening because of a fourth alarming trend: soaring rates in medical malpractice insurance.

Representatives of doctor groups and the insurance industry are blaming skyrocketing jury awards in malpractice lawsuits. But plaintiffs' lawyers are pointing to bad business decisions made by insurance companies during the booming 1990s.

Whatever the cause, astronomical increases in malpractice premiums are getting the attention of government and business leaders.

The state Chamber of Commerce recently formed a task force to look into the issue. Last week, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor named a Senate subcommittee to determine what effects it could have on the state budget.

And the Medical Association of Georgia is planning a march on the Capitol on Nov. 15, the first day bills can be pre-filed for the 2003 General Assembly session.

"It will be one of the top two or three issues in the [General Assembly] this time," said Jimmy Lewis, president of Hometown Health LLC, which represents rural hospitals across the state. "We've had a series of meetings to try to find a silver bullet to this problem. There ain't no silver bullet."

What Lewis and others in his field are grappling with are malpractice premium increases of at least 20 percent per year. And that's for doctors covered by companies that are regulated by the state Insurance Department.

Those covered under so-called "surplus lines," which are unregulated are being hit with annual premium increases as high as 300 percent, said Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

And more and more doctors are being forced into surplus lines because huge losses are prompting regulated carriers to stop writing malpractice policies.

"Companies are saying, 'Shoot, I'll just go and write car insurance, where I don't get sued,' " Oxendine said.

Ray Williams, the medical association's director of advocacy, said rate increases are hitting obstetricians and radiologists particularly hard because they tend to be sued more often. …

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