Hospital insurance rates to stay level

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By MICHAEL McAULIFFE

With malpractice claims down and awards not rising significantly, the Medical Professional Mutual Insurance Co. has announced that for the first time since 1996 it will not raise medical liability insurance rates this year for hospitals, clinics, clinical laboratories and community health centers in the state.

In Western Massachusetts, ProMutual insures Holyoke Medical Center and Noble Hospital in Westfield.

“It’s great news for us, actually. We’re very happy to hear that,” said Robert M. Blondin, vice president of finance for Noble Health Systems, which includes Noble Hospital and Westfield Medical Corp.

Blondin said the system paid about $500,000 for insurance in fiscal 2006, and was anticipating about a 5 percent increase for the fiscal year that begins in October.

“The time and effort that we’re putting in for patient safety issues, I think, is starting to pay off across the industry,” Blondin said.

ProMutual also announced earlier this year it would not increase malpractice rates for physicians, surgeons, dentists and nurse midwives.

Michael R. Kubik, vice president of marketing for ProMutual, said a reduction in malpractice claims, a low increase in the amount of money paid in malpractice cases, and successful efforts to increase patient safety were the reasons the liability rates for hospitals, clinics, labs and health centers will not increase this year.

“Frequency (of claims) is clearly down nationwide,” Kubik said. “I can’t tell you why.”

Kubik also said that while the amount of settlements or jury awards in connection with malpractice cases continues to increase, the rise is more in line with inflation than in the past. The average payment or award nationwide in a malpractice case is $450,000 to $500,000, Kubik said.

ProMutual’s decision will affect about 150 hospitals, clinics, clinical laboratories and community health centers.

Clark A. Fenn, vice president of quality improvement-innovation at Holyoke Medical Center, said he thought ProMutual’s decision was a reflection of the work done to improve patient safety.

“I’m not surprised,” Fenn said. “Obviously it’s a good thing.”

“Let’s hope we stay in this cycle a long time,” he added.
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