Medical malpractice insurance rates dropping

By T.M. Shultz, The Daily Courier

The president of the company that insures about 90 percent of Arizona’s doctors against medical malpractice says he can understand the frustrations of family practice physicians.

“It’s extremely difficult for physicians today to meet the financial needs of their practices,” said Dr. James Carland, president of Mutual Insurance Company of Arizona (MICA).

But in talking with local doctors and hospital officials about Prescott’s primary care physician shortage, the issue of medical malpractice insurance came up only once when a doctor noted that MICA intended to reduce its rates by 8 percent.

A call to the company confirmed it.

Carland said the overall average rate decrease would be 8 percent, although individual rate reductions will vary by specialty.

For family practice doctors, who were paying $18,241 annually, the rate reduction means they’ll be paying $16,898 for an annual policy that buys them

$1 million of liability insurance per year with a cap of three $1 million losses a year, Carland explained. That’s much less than doctors in other specialties.

The company offers rate reductions, Carland said, when it takes in more money than it needs to defend doctors in malpractice suits. He said the average number of suits filed between 1999 and 2005 was 650 a year. Then 2006 saw a dramatic drop in the number of suits to 460.

“We don’t know why,” Carland said.

The number of suits filed increased slightly – by 8 percent – in 2007 to 499, Carland said. But compared to the 1999 – 2005 rate, “It’s still much lower,” he said. “Things have improved a lot.”

He said the state enacted some “very modest” laws in 2005 – 2006 that may have made it harder for malpractice lawsuits to proceed. One law requires that a medical malpractice lawsuit must have an “affidavit of merit” certified by a medical expert before the suit can proceed. The other law better defined expert witness qualifications so that the expert testifying in a case would have current expertise in the area of medicine in question.

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