In West Virginia, insurer NCRIC was paying out $1.07 in claims for every $1 in premiums collected; it almost left the state until regulators allowed them to raise rates to make up the difference. Of course, some doctors can’t afford the new rates, and have had to stop practicing at hospitals and nursing homes that require insurance. ATLA once again blames the insurance companies for failing to invest premiums in such a way to pay the rising claims. The insurer’s problems were exacerbated when a D.C. jury levied a $18 million countersuit verdict against NCRIC when it tried to collect $3 million in unpaid premiums from the defunct Columbia Hospital for Women Medical Center. (Dina ElBoghdady, “D.C. Malpractice Insurer Feels Squeeze”, Washington Post, Sep. 6).
In Illinois, the political debate continues over the need for tort reform, as doctors continue to flee the state. Ed Murnane, of the Illinois Civil Justice League, notes that 40% of the doctors in St. Clair and Madison Counties have been named as defendants in lawsuits between 2000 and 2003; even though the overwhelming majority of plaintiffs collect nothing from such cases, the costs of defense are high. (Mark Samuels, “Group: Tort Reform Can Stop Malpractice Crisis”, The Southern, Sep. 3; Rob Stroud and Herb Meeker, “Illinois physicians say insurance rates are driving them out of state”, Journal Gazette/Times-Courier, Sep. 3).
An editorial signed by 25 Washington County, Maryland doctors protests the legislature’s failure to reform the medical malpractice system. (“Lawsuits will drive doctors away”, The Herald-Mail, Sep. 5).
In Nevada, the trial lawyers groups are trying to obstruct reform by putting forward faux reform measures on the initiative ballot that would wipe out the real reform measure, Question 3. For example, Question 5, proposes penalties for filing or defending “frivolous” lawsuits–but redefines “frivolous” to narrow the classification as to be meaningless. At the same time, it bars the legislature from ever implementing caps. An earlier attempt to stop Question 3 with a last-minute lawsuit failed. (Tanya Albert, “Nevada tort reform ballot fight now brewing”, American Medical News, Sep. 13; AP, Aug. 25; No on 4 and 5 website).
Washington state doctors are traditionally politics-free, but the medical malpractice crisis could change that and force them to lobby for the reform Initiative 330. “‘Physicians in the main have an aversion to mixing politics with their professional medical practice,’ said Dr. Kevin Ware, president of the county medical society. ‘But under the current circumstances, the need for malpractice insurance reform is so desperate that physicians are having to look seriously at departing from that custom.’” (Sharon Salyer, “Doctors may lift ban on politics”, The Herald, Sep. 6; Wallace blog, Aug. 31).
Wyoming has lost 10 percent of its doctors in the last eighteen months, and the state’s largest malpractice carrier will stop renewing policies October 1. A constitutional amendment is necessary for reform there. (Lee Lockhart, “Lawmaker predicts heated debate over damage caps”, Casper Star Tribune, Aug. 27).