Less-critical condition?

Illinois doctors’ insurance rates actually drop

BY JIM RITTER Health Reporter

http://www.suntimes.com

Illinois doctors are getting some relief from medical-malpractice insurance premiums that can top $100,000.

ISMIE Mutual, the state’s largest malpractice insurer, says premiums dropped an average of 5.2 percent this year and likely will hold steady or drop again next year.

But the premiums, which have prompted some doctors to leave the state, remain too high, said ISMIE chairman Dr. Harold Jensen.

“The surge may have subsided, but the effects of the flood haven’t gone away,” Jensen said.

ISMIE insures between 60 percent and 65 percent of Illinois doctors.

Premiums also are leveling off in most other parts of the country, according to Medical Liability Monitor, a newsletter that covers malpractice issues. Experts say the leveling off is due to increased competition and the cyclical nature of the industry. But it’s too early to determine the impact of a new tort-reform law.

A 2005 state law required ISMIE to make rate-related information public, making it easier for other companies to compete. One competitor, Medical Protective, cited the law as one reason why it’s expanding its business in Illinois and cutting rates by about 30 percent.

Rates vary widely

A new Illinois law limits malpractice awards for pain, suffering and disability to $500,000 per doctor and $1 million per hospital. There are no limits for medical expenses. The Illinois Supreme Court has struck down two previous caps, and the current law also is being challenged in court.The measure affects only lawsuits filed after the law took effect Aug. 25, 2005. Since it typically takes several years for lawsuits to reach trial, the law hasn’t had much impact yet, said Bruce Kohen, president-elect of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

“It is insurance reform, not tort reform, that has caused rates to go down,” Kohen said.

Malpractice rates vary according to specialty and location. For example, obstetrician-gynecologists pay huge premiums to protect against multimillion-dollar verdicts for deliveries in which the baby dies or is left with severe problems. Also, juries in areas such as Cook and Will counties tend to award bigger verdicts. Cook County OB/GYNs pay average ISMIE premiums of $138,484, while internists in Lake County pay $19,688.

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