Med-mal insurers gain; doctors don't

By DEBRA HENLEY
FLORIDA VOICE
http://www.news-journalonline.com

In 2003, the Legislature made a choice on behalf of the people of Florida. They capped damages in medical malpractice cases, taking away Floridians’ rights to fair compensation for medical negligence. The insurance industry and their allies in the Florida Medical Association told the people of Florida that unless they got these restrictions, doctors would be forced to flee the state, stop practicing or not carry insurance at all. In return, we were supposed to see lower rates and more malpractice insurance availability for Florida’s doctors. One of those goals has been accomplished.

Since 2004, more than 18 new companies have started writing new business in Florida. They are entering Florida for one reason — business is booming. You need only scan an insurance industry trade publication to see that “times are good” in Florida’s medical malpractice market. Flushed with cash and facing fewer claims, many insurance companies have announced dividends and aggressive stock repurchasing plans. This sounds good to investors, but for the doctors of Florida the translation is simple — no savings today, check back later. Clearly, insurance companies are reaping excessive profits and flouting the intent of the Legislature.

Meanwhile, doctors and consumers are forced to accept this sleight of hand. When the FMA declared a crisis in 2003 and asked lawmakers to slash patient rights for the promise of decreased premiums, their intention was not to enrich the insurance industry. But four years later, only token rate decreases have been submitted, following years of double digit increases.

In January, the Office of Insurance Regulation held a hearing to investigate whether medical malpractice rates are too high. Although the FMA was present, it was the Office of the Consumer Advocate and the Florida Justice Association that testified on behalf of doctors and consumers, urging OIR to drastically reduce doctors’ rates. The Consumer Advocate contends that the current rates filed by leading medical malpractice companies are as much as 50 percent too high. Despite the fact that insurance company losses are way down, Florida’s doctors simply are not seeing the savings.

This year, the Florida Justice Association will support legislation to bring rate relief to Florida’s doctors and common sense to the state’s medical malpractice insurance market. Through simple measures, such as a mandatory rate rollback, giving doctors a voice in rate approval, requiring insurers to file complete and truthful finance reports and ending the use of a rate model that allows insurance companies to set rates based on out-of-date assumptions, the Legislature can ensure that Florida’s doctors get the relief they sought in 2003.After all, if the people of Florida are going to give up their rights, shouldn’t it benefit Florida doctors instead of insurance companies?
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