Kaiser Highlights Recent Medical Malpractice News

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Summaries of recent news about medical malpractice in New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin appear below.

* New York: Gov. David Paterson (D) on Friday enacted a one-year moratorium on medical malpractice insurance rate increases, the New York Post reports. The moratorium, which will last until June 2009, could halt increases of up to 30% according to the state Insurance Department. According to the Post, New York physicians currently have the highest malpractice premiums in the U.S. Donna Montalto, executive director of New York's American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said, "We've been lobbying for years and years to get doctors some kind of reform. This year, because doctors are leaving the state because it's getting out of hand, they addressed it." According to Montalto, premiums result in the loss of about 30 obstetricians annually. The Post reports that obstetricians, who pay some of the highest premiums, have rates in New York City ranging from $129,851 to $154,027 annually. Michael Rosenberg, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said, "The imposition of a premium increase at this time could have destabilized our health care delivery system to the serious detriment of our patients" (Bennett, New York Post, 8/23).

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* West Virginia: The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in the state increased by 34% between 2004 and 2007 to 174 cases, according to data released recently by the West Virginia State Medical Association, the Charleston Daily Mail reports. According to the medical association, there were 130 malpractice lawsuits in 2004. As of July, there were 75 filed lawsuits. According to the Daily Mail, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits declined after state legislators in 2001 approved new laws that capped non-economic damages at $500,000 and established stricter rules for proving malpractice claims. The state Insurance Department recently released a report that showed that the rate of approved malpractice claims had declined since 2001 but rose in 2006. One in three lawsuits was dismissed before it went to trial, according to the report. Evan Jenkins, executive director of the state Medical Association, said, "We have had a significant turnaround in West Virginia as a result of reforms in 2001 and 2003," adding, "West Virginia has gone from one of the worst crisis states in terms of its medical liability climate to one of the better states in the country" (Charleston Daily Mail, 8/25).

* Wisconsin: Dane County Judge Michael Nowakowski on Monday withheld a ruling on a lawsuit that seeks to block the transfer of $200 million from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, which helps to pay legal awards of more than $1 million in medical malpractice lawsuits, to help balance the state budget, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports. Nowakowski said the issue of the lawsuit, filed against the state by the Wisconsin Medical Society, is too complex and requires further consideration before a ruling can be made. Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and state officials who support the transfer said the fund's surplus could be used to pay for other state health initiatives. State attorneys say similar transfers have been made in the past to help balance the state budget. According to the AP/Tribune, the medical society says the transfer is illegal and would put patients and physicians at risk. In addition, the medical society says using the surplus would result in an increase in charges to physicians and hospitals and make the fund unstable (Bauer, AP/Chicago Tribune, 8/25).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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