By Karen Pallarito
NEW YORK (Reuters Health), Feb 27 - Physician groups faced an average rate hike of 53.15% in malpractice premiums between 2002 and 2003, forcing many doctors to consider retiring, moving or curtailing patient care services, according to a survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).
The latest spike in premiums comes on top of a 36.38% increase between 2001 and 2002, the survey found.
While insurance premiums in general have been rising at a fairly steady rate, professional liability premiums have "gotten out of control," MGMA President and CEO Dr. William Jessee told Reuters Health.
MGMA, based in Englewood, Colorado, will release the full survey results Thursday in conjunction with a House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee hearing on medical liability reform. A copy of the key findings suggests the recent increases in liability premiums are beginning to impinge on patients' access to care.
More than a quarter of the practices -- 26.1% -- said some of their physicians would retire, relocate or restrict their practices over the next three years in response to the increases. One in five, or 22.6%, indicated they would refer high-risk patients elsewhere over the next several years in an effort to reduce their malpractice exposure.
Sixteen percent will eliminate certain physicians, physician specialties or specialty services, according to the survey, which was based on responses from 700 group practices employing some 16,800 physicians.
"Now we have hard evidence that, for patients, they're losing access to healthcare," Jessee said.
MGMA supports legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-PA) that would cap awards for non-economic damages -- so-called "pain and suffering" awards -- and limit punitive damages.
"Punishing people with large dollar awards doesn't keep other people from making mistakes," Jessee said.
MGMA's survey also found that premiums have "gone up much less" in states with tort reform, resulting in fewer instances of retirement, relocation and practice restrictions, he noted.
But caps remain a controversial remedy, one that would prevent patients from receiving fair compensation for injuries sustained due to incompetent medical care, critics contend. Some blame the recent surge in insurance premiums on insurance companies' lower investment returns in the weak economy, not higher damage awards.
Last Updated: 2003-02-26 16:39:10 -0400 (Reuters Health)
Malpractice crisis poses cost, access problems, January 17, 2003
Consumer groups say public misled about malpractice crisis, January 10, 2003
Insurance 101: How to determine if a medical malpractice insurer is right for you, November 26, 2002
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