Bermuda obstetricians in dire warning about malpractice insurance

By Robyn Skinner

Obstetricians have warned that almost $80,000 a year malpractice insurance could drive them out of business and that Government could make legislative changes to protect them.

Bermuda’s obstetricians buy their insurance through the Medical Protection Society in the UK, so premiums for them are based on projections for payouts in the UK. The past few years have seen the rates for the practice, which is one of the highest risk services, skyrocket and they are projected to be about $100,000 next year.

Permanent Secretary of Health Warren Jones, however, said it was not Government’s responsibility to legislate for the doctors and said he had heard their concerns more than two years ago. But as one obstetrician is set to retire this year, leaving only three practising obstetricians on the Island, there could be more leaving the field to practise gynaecology, which has far lower malpractice insurance.

“We informed them of it more than two years ago. We went to the Health Ministry and we went to the Health Council,” said an obstetrician contacted by this paper.

“They tried to work with the hospital for a local insurer, but it was too expensive. Nobody’s addressing the issue. It’s getting to the point where we cannot afford to work in the field. It will be going up next year to over $100,000 and we are expected to cover people without insurance. Fees did not go up this year substantially to cover this.”

According to another obstetrician some of the legislative changes that could be taken by the Government in Bermuda include placing a statute of limitations on lawsuits. Currently people can sue an obstetrician throughout their lifetime.

And he also suggested a cap on how much would be paid for claims against doctors to $1 million or $2 million to keep insurance down. Mr. Jones, however, dismissed this responsibility on behalf of the Government and wrote in an e-mail that a proposal was put to the obstetricians to have their insurance covered by the Bermuda Hospitals Board.

“The Obstetricians did approach the Ministry of Health approximately two years ago to share their concern with us regarding malpractice insurance,” he said. “It is ‘their’ view that the Government ‘must’ make legislative changes to protect them as it relates to the rising cost of malpractice insurance.

“They have been advised on more than one occasion that we do not agree that it is a Government responsibility to legislate to protect them.

“You may not be aware that a proposal has been put to the OBs by the Bermuda Hospitals Board that would see their malpractice insurance premiums being covered by the BHB.

“Additionally, the Ministry undertook to review legislation and policy initiatives within other jurisdictions to determine how this issue is being addressed.”

A BHB spokesperson echoed the Ministry’s statement saying they were working with them to find a local solution to the problems.

“Bermuda Hospitals Board is working with the Ministry of Health and Obstetricians in order to manage the financial pressures of increasing malpractice insurance costs,” she said.

“Obstetricians are currently covered through private insurance, and we are working with them to have a solution in place in the coming months.

“As the details have yet to be finalised, it would be premature to go into more detail, but all parties concerned are focused on maintaining an affordable service on-island.”

Linda Merritt, chairman of the Bermuda Health Council, said she was aware of the concerns and said the Ministry and BHB were addressing them.

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