KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Texas Doctors Strike To Protest Malpractice Insurance Rates

Hundreds of physicians in South Texas on April 8 rallied and some closed their offices to protest rising medical malpractice insurance rates they say could force them out of business, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports. The doctors and their supporters held rallies in Brownsville, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Edinburg and Laredo and called on Gov. Rick Perry (R) to schedule a special session of the state Legislature to take up the malpractice issue (Brooks, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 4/9). A spokesperson for Perry said that the governor has "no plans" to call a special session in part because the Legislature rejected 18 bills this session on malpractice reform. But last week Perry outlined a plan for the next legislative session, which begins in January, to limit medical malpractice lawsuits. His plan includes capping non-economic awards to plaintiffs at $250,000, creating special malpractice courts and expanding the Texas Department of Insurance's ability to review insurance rates. But Dr. Juan Jimenez, president of Rio Grande Valley Physicians Political Action Committee, which organized the rallies, said, "We need immediate solutions. We can't wait another year" (Rivera, Dallas Morning News, 4/9). Medical malpractice insurance rates have been rising both in Texas and nationwide, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports, and since 1999, seven of 17 malpractice insurers in Texas have left the state or gone out of business, according to the Texas Department of Insurance (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/8). This year, malpractice insurance premiums in Texas are expected to increase 30% to 60% (Dallas Morning News, 4/9). Opponents of the strikes said legislative reform of malpractice laws would not decrease insurance rates and advocated instead for a reduction in the incidence of medical malpractice and for stricter regulation of the insurance industry (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 4/9).

USA Today Looks at Trend
USA Today on April 9 examines the increasing number of doctors nationwide who are being forced to relocate or to stop practicing because of rising malpractice insurance premiums. In Nevada, the State Medical Association estimates that 250 doctors could go bankrupt or leave the state this year because of malpractice insurance rates that exceed $200,000 a year for some physicians. All neurosurgeons in Wheeling, W.Va., have stopped practicing, and 14 of 16 neurosurgeons in Broward County, Fla., do not have malpractice insurance, according to the American Medical Association. The trauma center at Abington Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia might have to close because its doctors cannot find affordable insurance. USA Today reports that the AMA is preparing to fight the trend of insurance premium increases by amassing a fund of "epic proportions" to lobby for tort reform that would cap the amount of jury awards to patients (Friess, USA Today, 4/9).

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