Wash. Unveils Med-Mal Report

October 7, 2005

The second annual Washington medical malpractice insurance survey was released this month by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. The survey, or data call, analyzes trends in medical malpractice claims for a 10-year period beginning July 1, 1995 and ending June 30, 2005.

In last year’s data call, the top five medical malpractice insurers comprising more than 90 percent of the regulated market for physicians and surgeons were asked to supply specific closed claim information to the Insurance Commissioner’s Office for a 10-year period.

This year’s report includes the most recent year of data on compensation for injuries and the related expenses of defending physicians. Surplus lines carriers and self-insurers that provide malpractice coverage for physicians are not regulated by the Insurance Commissioner and did not participate in the data call.

The participating insurers closed 10,212 medical malpractice claims over the 10-year period. Among the key findings:

* The number of paid medical malpractice claims increased at an annual rate of 3.5 percent.
* The average amount of compensation per claim increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent.
* Twenty-seven percent of the claims were closed with an indemnity (compensation) payment to a claimant.
* 3,178 claims were closed without any compensation payments or defense costs.
* Less than two percent of the total paid claims resulted in compensation
* Of the 10,212 closed claims, 45 claims – or less than one percent – were decided by a jury and resulted in a payment to a plaintiff.
* Sixty-two percent of the claims were closed with defense costs, such as attorney or expert witness fees.
* Sixty-seven percent of the claims that incurred defense costs resulted in no compensation payment.
* The number of claims with defense costs increased at an annual rate of 3.5 percent.
* Average defense costs increased at an annual rate of 7 percent.

“The results of this survey suggest that medical malpractice claim payments have stabilized over the last few years, which should be good news for physicians and surgeons – at least in the near term,” said Kreidler.

“However, we still lack the authority to require specific information that could shine a light on the real trouble areas in the medical malpractice market,” he added. “Now is the time to develop clear and consistent requirements for reporting claim and settlement information. It’s time to move from policy decisions based on anecdotes to decisions based on data that can really solve problems. I intend to push for legislation again in 2006 that would give my office the authority we need to better assess the health of the medical malpractice market.”

The study limitations include:

* Use of historical paid claim data cannot predict future trends in medical malpractice insurance rates.
* Participating insurers represent a limited share of the medical malpractice insurance market. Current laws do not allow the Commissioner to obtain data from surplus lines insurers (which sell insurance to high risk providers or specialties) or self-insurers (such as health care facilities and medical cooperatives).
* Claims information by type of specialty is unreliable due to differences in the way insurers collect data.

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