Malpractice insurance: no simple solutions

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Miami Herald

TALLAHASSEE – (AP) — Those who want Florida to limit the amount of money victims of medical malpractice could win frequently cite California as a model, saying its doctors pay lower insurance rates because of a cap imposed in 1975.

But opponents say that’s not true. They argue that California’s malpractice insurance rates continued to increase despite the 1975 limit and didn’t drop until voters passed a 1988 ballot initiative that mandated rollbacks on premiums.

”The problem was not with the legal system, the problem was with the insurance companies,” said Harvey Rosenfield, who wrote that ballot initiative. He said Proposition 103 rolled back rates and made it harder for companies to raise them. “What good does [limiting lawsuit awards] do if they are not going to lower premiums?”

Florida doctors say skyrocketing insurance rates are forcing many of them to give up coverage and stop doing some procedures. Others say they may quit or move out of state, leaving some areas without critical healthcare coverage. Doctors in several counties have staged walkouts in the last month to protest high insurance rates.

Lawmakers will attempt to deal with the issue when they convene for two months starting March 4 and many see California’s 1975 law as a model. They would impose a $250,000 ceiling on pain and suffering and other non-economic damages in malpractice cases.

The insurance industry is pushing for that cap and argues that Rosenfield’s 1988 initiative, which was aimed primarily at other types of insurance such as homeowner’s policies, wasn’t behind California’s lower medical malpractice insurance rates.

Sam Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Insurance Council, said California’s lower rates are attributable to the 1975 changes and accused lawyers who represent malpractice victims of ”fabricating” by saying they were brought down instead by the rate rollback.

”By the time Proposition 103 came in, the companies were starting to see some relief,” Miller said.

Lawmakers will try to sort out the discrepancies and the issue promises to be one of the most heavily debated of the coming legislative session.

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