Waiting for malpractice rates to decrease

It may be too early to tell, but we remain skeptical the medical malpractice insurance industry is going to live up to its half of the bargain implicit in a 2004 vote by Nevada residents to put a limit on lawsuits.

According to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Medical Liability Association of Nevada recently was granted a 14.8 percent increase in rates. This is the group formed by the state in 2002 as the first response to skyrocketing insurance premiums.

About a quarter of the physicians in the state get their malpractice insurance through the organization. It's the first rate increase for the group since it was created.

The increase, according to the article, can be attributed to potential liabilities still hanging around from before 2002. The organization's executive director, Larry Matheis, told the newspaper that new doctors coming into the state are paying less, and that rate increases have slowed considerably with the Legislature's reforms of 2002 and 2004.

This is seen as a positive trend, and we suppose it is. But shouldn't rates be dropping? Didn't the people of Nevada give up some basic rights in court in order to protect insurance companies from malpractice lawsuits?

The insurance companies never promised rates would decrease. In fact, the insurance companies never promised anything. And that's one of the central issues we had with the 2004 ballot question.

Insurance companies were squeezing doctors out of Nevada. It was left to the doctors to mount a campaign to get the initiative passed, which they did. Their reward, at least in this instance, is a rate increase of only 14.8 percent. (That's overall. Some will be as low as 5.8 percent; others will be as high as 42 percent.)

And yet it's still considered a bargain. The Review-Journal reported that insurance costing $99,000 through the association, by comparison, runs between $113,000 and $219,000 from private companies.

Matheis noted it took years to create the malpractice-insurance crisis in Nevada, and it will take time to sort out. For the sake of the doctors, we'll hope it turns around soon. But excuse us if we don't hold our breath in the meantime.


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