Malpractice premiums fall in Massachusetts

Bay State doctors paid lower malpractice insurance premiums on average in 2005 than 1990, according to a new Health Affairs study. The study clashes with popular beliefs frequently touted by sponsors of legislative efforts to cap damage awards.

“If you don’t find a crisis here, you’re probably not going to find one nationally,” lead author and Suffolk University Law School scholar Marc Rodwin told The Boston Globe. “Clearly there are some increases in premiums and high premiums for a small percentage of doctors in three specialty groups, but that’s entirely different for the rest of doctors.”

Malpractice settlements in Massachusetts are the fourth highest in the nation, and the American Medical Association lists it as one of 21 states being in a crisis due to high medical malpractice payments and lack of laws to cap settlements, the Globe reports.

The Suffolk study found that most Massachusetts physicians paid an average of $17,810 in premiums in 2005, slightly less than the $17,907 paid in 1990, after adjusting for inflation.

The researchers analyzed data from 1975 to 2005 provided by ProMutual Group, the insurer for about half of the state’s doctors.

Rates for specialists in obstetrics/gynecology, neurological surgery, and orthopedics involving spinal surgery increased on average from $66,220 in 1990 to $95,045 in 2005.

So is malpractice reform a distraction from real health reform debate? Probably, but it is one that must be dealt with to get docs on the side of real health care reform.

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3 replies »

  1. $100,000 a year in insurance is a distraction from real health care reform? Think about that. You have to spend $100,000 to have malpractice insurance for each physician. If you receive about $2,000 for each delivery, an obstetrician will have to deliver 50 patients just to cover the expense of insurance. This does not include the costs of rent, staff hours, benefits, medical supplies, office supplies, etc. This is a huge cost of doing business. Since physicians are unable to set their prices because of insurance contracts, there is no real way for them to recoup this cost. They end up seeing more patients in shorter amount of time and increase the number of tests ordered. All in all, this is not a winning situation for patients. While major health care reform is needed, the issue of malpractice reform MUST be included in the package. The problem is and has been that too many lawyers as compared to physicians write our laws.

  2. I don’t understand this conclusion … premiums average 18 K, and close to 100 K for some surgical specialties? And on average, they didn’t increase over the last 17 years?
    I am not stating that malpractice is the only or most important factor for cost explosion in US healthcare, but … if a surgeon pays 100 k and doctors on average the price of a compact car for insurance, that is just OK because it didn’t worsen any further lately?
    Furthermore, the author seems to forget about defensive medicine. Sure, this is very hard to assess, and most studies about defensive medicine fail due to the fact that there are multiple motivations to order any particular test. But as long as lawyers can threaten physicians with an ill-defined “standard of care”, we will have to figure in the cost of multiple unnecessary MRIs, CTs, exploratory laparotomies, coronary observations …