The malpractice insurance premiums have skyrocketed in the past two years for physicians in Pennsylvania. Physicians who specialize in orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology and general surgeons are hit the hardest. Their malpractice has risen from approximately $20,000 per year to close to, if not over, $100,000 per year. The doctors are requesting that if they do not get a decrease in their malpractice, they will have no choice but to leave the state.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Donald Kovalsky, who left Pennsylvania, is now practicing in a the central United States because of Pennsylvania’s malpractice issues. He commutes weekly as his family still lives in this area and works three days each week. He is able to offset his travel costs due to the cost of his malpractice coverage in his new office location.
A typical orthopedic surgeon now pays approximately $111,296 per year. If a surgeon were to move to Delaware, which is 20 minutes away, his malpractice would only be $37,783 per year. This is why many of the medical doctors in the area are changing the locations of their practices.
In 2001, Pennsylvania’s major malpractice insurance had an overall increase ranging from 21% to 60.4% and the Medical Professional Liability Catastrophe Loss Fund (CAT) increased its surcharge by 25.7%. Too many meritless claims steal important financial resources like patient care.
According to the Physician’s Insurer’s Association of America, only about 30% of malpractice claims result in payment to the patient. When a claim against a physician goes to verdict, the plaintiff prevails in only about 19% of the claims. Because of this, 89% of the doctors are practicing defensive medicine to protect themselves against meritless claims. Defensive medicine occurs when additional tests and treatments are ordered that are not required for treatment. Eighty percent of doctors who have attempted to recruit new physicians into Pennsylvania have faced serious difficulty in recruiting. Seventy-two percent of doctors have stated that they have deferred the purchase of new equipment or hiring of new staff due to sharp increases in liability insurance.
The House of Representatives has recently expressed the support of the proposed House amendments to HB 1802 and have added amendments. They are proposing a seven-year deadline for bringing malpractice actions called a statue of repose, with exceptions for minors and foreign objects found in the body. A stronger process by which judges reduce “jackpot” awards, requiring the judge to consider the impact to access the medical community.
The lawmakers have to come up with a plan that will retain our physicians in Pennsylvania and still respect the patients right to sue.