GUEST VIEW: Malpractice hurts everyone

The New York Post

Imagine walking into your doctor’s office and finding … no one home.

That could be a real possibility soon if Albany doesn’t get serious, once and for all, about runaway medical-malpractice awards in New York — and the onerous financial burden they place, indirectly, on patients and doctors here.

The Medical Society of the State of New York says that some 1,500 docs from around the state — more than ever — will descend on the capital to drive that message home.

The doctors will explain how, thanks to astronomic verdicts, their insurance premiums are smashing through the roof — and driving many of them out of state.

For years, the state held increases in premiums below the rate at which insurers’ payouts (based on skyrocketing malpractice awards) shot up. A 2006 report shows average liability awards soared 35 percent, from $6 million to $8.1 million, for the years between 1999 and 2005, as compared to 1997-2003.

Now some of those insurers face big debt, and Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo says revenue must be found to keep the firms solvent.

Thus, last year he let insurers slap docs with a 14 percent hike. Lately, he’s warned of a $50,000-per-doctor surcharge (and $230,000 per doc in the high-risk pool) — on top of, perhaps, another huge bump in premiums.

Such stiff hits, the Medical Society says, are sure to fuel the flight of doctors out of state. Especially since docs must eat much of the cost of the premiums themselves, rather than pass it along to patients — as their fees are overwhelmingly set by insurers and rarely rise to reflect their costs.

Already, some areas of the state are suffering. In a few places, for example, it’s next to impossible to find a doctor close by to deliver a baby.

But with the coming insurance spikes, things will surely grow worse. Much worse.

To avert a crisis, Albany can take any number of steps — like limiting liability for doctors, capping awards and appointing (ahem) fewer judges who are in the pocket of the trial lawyers.

The doctors, as we said, have their work cut out for them

— The New York Post

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