Report puts price on medical malpractice

A New Haven Register Editorial

Cost in insurance settlements should be incentive for greater emphasis on safety.

Thanks to a law passed by the legislature in 2005, lawmakers now have some concrete numbers if it wishes to ever revisit that year’s bruising debate on medical malpractice insurance.

Part of the law requires that insurance companies file quarterly reports with the state Insurance Department on settled medical malpractice claims.

In April, the department issued a report, covering 2006 and the last quarter of 2005, based on information from 62 insurers. Several insurers did not supply information, including MCIC Vermont, which covers three state hospitals.

The doctors and hospitals lost one part of their battle in 2005. The legislature rejected placing a cap on damage awards for noneconomic losses, commonly referred to as pain and suffering. Those claims amounted to 70 percent of the value of all settled malpractice claims for the 15 months covered in the report.

That high percentage gives doctors and hospitals a compelling point if they want to argue again for caps that do not unduly restrict just compensation for medical mistakes.

Backers of the cap on damage awards had claimed that the punishing insurance rate increases of the previous years would continue. In fact, premium increases were flattening out in 2005 and the total value of malpractice insurance sold in the state dropped by $12 million in 2006 from 2005.

In all, $180.9 million was paid out to settle 328 malpractice cases in 15 months. Just 38 cases accounted for $112.8 million of the payments.

The 2005 law requires judges to review jury awards of more than $1 million to consider whether they are excessive.

Even in the majority of cases where there was no payment, insurers had to cover their lawyers’ bills, totalling $25.4 million. The law has also placed limits on attorneys’ fees.

Barring an unexpected spike in the cost of malpractice insurance premiums, it seems unlikely the state will consider soon capping awards for pain and suffering caused by incompetent care.

The multimillion cost of medical malpractice is one more incentive for Connecticut hospitals, physicians and other professionals to adopt technologies and procedures that eliminate errors and protect patients.
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