Malpractice payouts against doctors are not driving wild insurance-rate increases, according to a study released by Washington state's insurance commissioner. The study updates a 10-year survey launched last year that compiled data on closed malpractice claims from the five largest insurers of physicians and surgeons in Washington.
State insurance analysts said the survey shows the number of malpractice claims against doctors increased by 3.5% per year, while the average amount paid for claims grew by 3.2%. It also showed that more than 60% of payments to patients were for less than $100,000, with fewer than 50 of the 10,200 closed cases over 10 years involving payments of $1 million or more, officials said. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said the data help reveal that expensive claims aren't pushing malpractice rates out of reach -- rather, "there's been a growth over time that's been constant and quite predictable."
But the Washington State Medical Association said the study does not evaluate malpractice trends for self-insurers or for high-risk doctors, including those in some specialized fields. High-risk physicians are important to measure because they would presumably generate the most claims and the highest awards, said Tom Curry, the association's chief executive.
Kreidler's office said it could not compile a more comprehensive set of data because it does not regulate all of those fields.
The medical association is supporting Initiative 330 in this fall's election, a state referendum that would cap noneconomic damages in malpractice cases and limit lawyers' fees. A rival measure, Initiative 336, does not have caps. It would set up a state-run supplemental malpractice insurance program and allow for doctors' licenses to be revoked after three adverse malpractice verdicts in 10 years. It is supported mainly by lawyers.