Malpractice Coverage Rates For Massachusetts Physicians Lower Now Than in 1990s, Study Finds

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Physicians in Massachusetts pay lower premium rates for malpractice coverage than they did in 1990, despite previous claims that high rates are causing them to leave the state, according to a study published in the current issue of Health Affairs, the Boston Globe reports. For the study, researchers at Suffolk University’s Law School, led by health policy scholar Marc Rodwin, examined data on state physicians from 1975 to 2005. The data were provided by ProMutual Group, which offers insurance for about half the physicians in the state.

The study found that Massachusetts ranked fourth in the U.S. for the amount paid out for malpractice-related settlements. While higher payments could lead to higher premium rates, the premium rates for coverage in 2005 averaged $17,810, compared with $17,907 for similar coverage in 1990, after the rates were adjusted for inflation, the study found.

In addition, the study found that physicians who specialized in obstetrics/gynecology, neurological surgery and orthopedics involving spinal surgery, who accounted for 4% of practicing physicians in the state, experienced the greatest fluctuations in premium rates. Average rates for physicians in those specialties in 1990 increased from $66,220 to $95,045 in 2005 after they were adjusted for inflation.

Rodwin said, “If you don’t find a crisis here, you’re probably not going to find one nationally,” adding, “Clearly there are some increases in premiums and high premiums for a small percentage of doctors in three specialty groups, but that’s entirely different for the rest of doctors.”

Bruce Auerbach, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said that malpractice premiums are one of the many pressures that the state’s practicing physicians face. Auerbach said, “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,” adding, “I think to some degree looking at malpractice premiums … may provide an unfair picture of what is really going on” (Cooney, Boston Globe, 5/15).

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