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Study Debunks Med-Mal Crisis

Massachusetts has the fourth-highest median malpractice settlement payments in the nation. It only follows that Massachusetts doctors should pay the fourth-highest insurance premiums. Right? Turns out, Bay State physicians actually saw their inflation-adjusted malpractice premiums drop between 1990 and 2005. This is the finding of a newly released study conducted by researchers at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Published this week in the May/June issue of the journal Health Affairs, the study "raises serious questions about claims that Massachusetts doctors are facing a medical malpractice premium crisis that threatens the viability of medical practice in the Bay State," say its authors. From the announcement:

Suffolk University Law School researchers Marc Rodwin and colleagues analyzed malpractice premiums from 1975 to 2005 using data from the state-regulated mutual insurer known as ProMutual Group. In 2005, inflation-adjusted malpractice premiums were $17,810 for the coverage level and policy type that physicians most frequently purchased, compared with $17,907 in 1990. Despite premium increases since 1995 or 2000 for all physicians, premiums were still lower in 2005 than 1990, when they reached a 30-year peak. Mean premiums increased only in three specialties comprising 4 percent of physicians: obstetrics, neurology and orthopedists performing spinal surgery.

Even in high-risk specialties, where insurers charge surcharges, the situation is not as dire as so-called tort reformers would suggest. In OB-GYN, for example, nearly one third of physicians paid lower premiums in 2005 than in 1990, the study found.

In The Boston Globe, the president of the Massachusetts Medical Society countered the study with this confounding statement: "The issue of the malpractice crisis is not purely a premium-based issue, although we certainly have documented the high cost of liability insurance is a major factor in [physicians'] perspective on the practice environment. I think to some degree looking at malpractice premiums ... may provide an unfair picture of what is really going on."

What I think he said is this: If the insurance argument isn't going to work anymore to deflect those nasty tort lawyers, we'll think of something else.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 15, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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