Editorial: New York must fix malpractice insurance problem

Newsday Inc.

Couldn’t see your doctor today? Your favorite physician may have been busy seeking treatment for a vexing problem of his or her own. Exasperated by the soaring cost of medical malpractice insurance, a large contingent of doctors was to converge on Albany today in search of relief. The condition needs attention. Stat.

The search for a way to rein in premiums – on average, $177,880 a year for an obstetrician on Long Island – has too often stalled on discussions of a cap on noneconomic damages awarded in lawsuits. The amount floated is usually $250,000 total for anything beyond actual economic damages, which include lost wages and the cost of rehabilitation.

There are two major problems with caps. First, they would unfairly dump the entire cost of reform on patients injured due to the negligence of others. Second, they’ve long been a political nonstarter in the Assembly.

With a 14 percent jump in premiums this year and the specter of more to come, officials must move past the stalemate over caps. What’s the alternative?

There are a number of ideas worth exploring. Moving to a no-fault system, for instance, particularly in cases involving impaired newborns. Mandatory arbitration is another. Specialized medical malpractice courts might help. Doctor discipline should be tougher, to weed out incompetents. And requiring medical experts to be identified and testify in depositions before trial could mean a quicker end to frivolous cases and earlier settlements of those with merit. The governor’s medical malpractice task force should throw additional ideas into the mix when it reports later this month.

Clearly, something’s got to give. Otherwise physicians will leave the state and patients will have a hard time finding doctors – and not just for one day.

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