Wash. State Leaders Aim to Control Med-Mal Insurance Premiums

January 7, 2004

Washington Gov. Gary Locke, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler recently unveiled a proposal to help improve the safety of medical patients and control the cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors.

“We want patients to be safer and the medical community to continue offering their services,” Locke said. “The steps we are proposing will go a long way toward reaching both objectives.”

The proposal would achieve three things:
· Increase patient safety;
· Assure that physicians and hospitals can get the insurance they need and stabilize their insurance rates; and
· Improve our civil justice system while protecting the constitutional rights of patients.

The package, which will be part of the governor’s supplemental budget proposal to the Legislature, includes a Medicaid reimbursement rate increase for doctors. This would help obstetricians and family practitioners who deliver babies cover their rising cost for this care, including increased malpractice premiums, and ensure these critical delivery services remain available across the state.

The Medicaid increase would permit the state to claim federal matching funds, target assistance to doctors that serve the most Medicaid clients, and benefit rural providers, who are more dependent on Medicaid revenues.

The proposal drew quick praise from the Washington Academy of Family Physicians (WAFP), who thanked Locke and other state leaders for “listening to and helping family physicians in Washington state continue to provide quality medical care to their patients.”

“The increased reimbursement rate for Medicaid OB care will ensure family physicians can continue to provide OB care to this vulnerable population in these vulnerable communities,” said Dr. Jean Marshall, a family physician and president of WAFP. “The WAFP strongly supports this proposal.”

Marshall also singled out another piece of the package for praise – lifting the burden of pending Medicaid health care premiums charged to low-income families whose children receive Medicaid coverage.

The proposal would improve access to care among low-income families and allow hospitals and medical groups to share quality-improvement techniques, giving health professionals the opportunity to learn from each other about how best to protect patients.

It would also allow the state to establish a Patients’ Compensation Fund, which would cover excessive malpractice award costs for health professionals, while ensuring that people with significant medical injuries receive compensation for their losses.

Additionally, the proposal would direct the state to fully investigate physicians with excessive malpractice judgments and provide additional funding for the Department of Health to cover the cost of malpractice insurance for retired physicians willing to volunteer in community clinics.

“Skyrocketing medical liability insurance premiums are putting additional financial pressures on many doctors, which could threaten patient access to some high-risk services, such as obstetrics and surgery” Locke said. “It is imperative that the state implement a system that will help alleviate these costs for our health care providers so they can continue to serve Washington citizens.”

“The rising cost and access to medical malpractice coverage is affecting the ability for us to continue to provide that care. We thank the governor for an interest in addressing this critical issue in his budget proposal for the 2004 legislative session,” Marshall said.

Joining Locke for the announcement were Kreidler; Chopp, D-Seattle; Brown, D-Spokane; Rep. Patricia Lantz, D-Gig Harbor; and other legislators.

“With multiple causes behind the medical liability problem, there must be more than one solution, not just for now but for the future,” Kreidler said. “We must make medical liability insurance more accessible for doctors and prevent the sharp swings in that market that have led to price spikes every decade.”

“This package is a win-win,” Chopp said. “It addresses the doctors’ concern about malpractice insurance rates and also meets the constitutionality test.”

Brown expressed particular satisfaction with the proposal’s effort to ensure that Washington residents have access to maternity and obstetrical services.

“The bottom line for all of us is ensuring that patients are able to see physicians when they need to,” Brown said. “By boosting what Medicaid pays obstetricians and family docs, as this package does, we are ensuring that moms, particularly women in the rural parts of our state, will get the care they need and that children will get a healthy start in life.”

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