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Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance – Don't Overpay

Florida medical malpractice insurance rates have decreased in recent years. With a number of different insurance companies offering coverage it's important for doctors in the Sunshine State to ensure they are getting quality malpractice insurance at the most affordable rates available.

The downward trend in rates is expected to continue so make sure you are not overpaying for your medical liability coverage.


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Medical Malpractice Insurance Rates for Florida

As a doctor practicing in Florida there are a number of factors that will go into determining your medical malpractice insurance rate (e.g. New to practice, Full-time vs. Part-time, Occurrence or Claims Made). In order to ensure that you have the right coverage at the best price simply submit your free quote request today and a friendly liability consultant will be glad to review all your options with you.


Latest News on Medical Malpractice Insurance in Florida

Florida Supreme Court decision on on non-economic damages cap

In March 2014, the Florida Supreme Court ruled (SC11-1148) that the cap on non-economic damages violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution.

The plaintiffs in the case were the surviving child and parents of 20 year old Michele McCall, who died following the birth of her son in February, 2006. Since McCall was part of a military family, she was treated by Air Force medical personnel. Therefore, the case was first brought before a federal court. The federal court determined that the non-economic damages in the wrongful death suit should be awarded in the amount of $2 million. However, the court reduced the amount to $1 million because of Florida’s cap on non-economic awards.

The family appealed the case and the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Florida’s cap on damages did not violate the U.S. Constitution. The court determined that the Florida Supreme Court should decide whether or not the decision violated the State Constitution.

The case was first heard by the Florida Supreme Court in 2012. After a lengthy review, the court’s determination was released on March 13, 2014. By a 5-2 vote, the Court ruled that the cap on non-economic damages violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution (Article I, Section 2).

In the case in question, the survivors were McCall’s child and her two parents. If the total award had gone to the child, he would have received the entire $1 million. However, since there were three plaintiffs, the child would receive only a portion of the amount due him.

The impact of this ruling could be far reaching. The decision paves the way for more lawsuits with larger awards given. There is a delicate balance between medical malpractice insurance rates and the cap on damages. With little or no cap, the awards tend to be much higher, which creates a chain reaction.


Chain Reaction

With no cap on damages, insurance carriers risk greater losses. If this happens, it could cause a need for these carriers to increase their rates. Without increasing rates, the carrier could potentially face negative business results. If this happens for too long, the carrier might be forced to take desperate measures which could potentially go as far as choosing not to insure doctors from Florida.

The chain reaction does not stop there though. If rates increase, some healthcare providers would inevitably increase the cost of services performed for their patients in order to recoup that cost. Another option they may consider is moving their practice to a different state entirely. Effectively, by eliminating the cap on damages, medical malpractice insurance rates come full circle and the cost is pushed onto the ordinary citizen looking for quality healthcare. It’s a catch 22 really: maintain the cap (which in some cases has been found unconstitutional on a state by state basis), or eliminate the cap and pay a higher cost for medical malpractice insurance and the services rendered by those healthcare practitioners.


Effects on Specialties

As many people know, the scope of healthcare is vast, ranging from family practitioners and CRNA’s, all the way to neurosurgeons and the assistants they employ. The problem posed by the elimination of the cap on damages is further magnified when looking at the situation from a per specialty basis.

Individual specialties may not be singled out, but a particular carrier could decide to increase their rates by 5% across the board in Florida. The effect will be felt on a per specialty basis when it comes to that increase on your premium. A 5% increase on a nurse practitioner paying $500 is not nearly the same as the increase on an OBGYN paying $30,000. These numbers are arbitrary of course, but depending on your specialty, you may want to consult with your broker in the event that there is an increase. There may be other options available to you that weren’t in the past.

On a year to year basis, carriers tend to make small adjustments in what types of specialties that they will actively want to write, and they will offer discounts and incentives to attract more of that particular specialty. A number of factors contribute to these nuances in medical malpractice insurance rates, so your broker will be the best equipped to approach the market on your behalf.


Going bare in light of this court decision

The March ruling to eliminate the cap on damages further complicates matters as it pertains to doctors in Florida who choose to “go bare” (meaning not carry medical malpractice insurance). Does it change Florida’s existing laws for doctors who opt to go bare? No, but the stakes are higher.

Paying for a claim out of pocket can be painful at any level, but without a damage cap, the financial consequences can be quite drastic. Consider the March ruling: The court had originally awarded $2 million in damages, but then reduced it to $1 million due to the cap that was in place at the time. A difference of $1 million is a large sum for anyone regardless of your specialty or even if you are in the healthcare industry for that matter.

If you have a spare $2 million that you want to spend on a malpractice claim, by all means, go bare. But for those of us who don’t have those extra zero’s in our bank accounts, “going bare” is widely considered an ill-advised move.


HB 479 - Expert Witness Certification

In early May 2011 the Florida Senate passed a bill (HB 479) which overhauls medical malpractice suits in the state. House Bill 479 was approved by a 94 to 21 vote on Wednesday, May 4th. Bill 479 became law on June 28, 2011.

Bill HB 479 requires out of state doctors to apply for a certificate to testify as an expert witness in trials in the state of Florida. This certification will allow the state to discipline out of state doctors if they were found to have offered "deceptive or fraudulent" testimony.

This measure does provide some immunity from suit for doctors who have volunteered to help facilities such as college sports teams and high schools. A hospital-protecting provision has been taken out by senators stating those facilities will still need to be held accountable to injured patients.



Florida Medical Malpractice Insurance - The Background

While the state passed considerable tort reforms in 2003, Florida (South Florida, specifically) holds the dubious distinction of having some of the highest medical liability rates in the country. When compared to states with more favorable tort environments like California it’s no wonder Florida is concerned with the future of its physician supply and quality of healthcare.

While the premium dollar amounts seem staggering, Florida’s professional medical liability insurance rates did experience an average rate decrease of around 10 percent in 2007, and insurance experts expect that downward trend to continue as the tort reforms passed in 2003 continue to take hold.

“Floridians should take heart,” said Dr. Lawrence McQuillan, co-author of the study “U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report” and director of Business and Economic Studies at the free-market think tank Pacific Research Institute. “Although their state presently has the highest tort costs and risks, Florida has among the best tort laws in America due to recent reforms. As a ‘salvageable’ state, the Florida tort climate should improve as a result of its reforms.”


The 2003 Tort Reforms in Florida

A 2002 comparative survey of malpractice insurance premiums revealed an invasive cardiologist in Los Angeles paid $16,148 for $1 million coverage, whereas the same specialist in Miami paid $106,497, the highest in the United States; cardiovascular surgeons in Los Angeles paid $42,292, whereas a Miami surgeon paid $212,994.

Furthermore, across the country, the frequency of claims—based on number of claims per 100,000 physicians—has been relatively stable since 1991, with a national high of only 5.77. In spite of this, Florida claims—frequency per 100,000 population—increased from a low of 4.82 in 1998 to a high of 7.56 in 2000. As such, the average malpractice premium per doctor in Florida was 55-percent greater than the national average. This increased payout and increased frequency of claims caused more than 30 commercial malpractice insurance companies to leave the Florida market between 2000 and 2002, with fewer than 10 remaining to write policies. Insurance became not only unaffordable but, in many instances, unavailable for certain specialties.

This tumultuous malpractice insurance climate prompted then-Florida-Governor Jeb Bush to appoint a task force on healthcare professional liability insurance in August of 2002. This task force issued a comprehensive report that included 60 recommendations to the Florida Legislature, many of which were extracted from the successful California reform, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act(MICRA). These recommendations were intended to be effective in resolving the liability crisis by addressing proposed changes in physician discipline, patient safety, the insurance system and the tort system.

The healthcare coalition was able to successfully lobby the state's House of Representatives and sustain passage of a bill that contained most of the 60 recommendations of the Governor’s task force. Although the Florida House of Representatives bill included a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, the Florida Senate failed to move forward on the issue and did not pass meaningful legislation during the regular session in 2003. This led to Gov. Bush calling legislators back to Tallahassee for three special sessions until a consensus was reached with the passage of a tort reform bill in August 2003. The final bill included a cap on non-economic damages of $500,000, which could be increased to $1 million in certain egregious cases of death, paralysis and other serious complications from medical malpractice.

While the $500,000 cap on pain and suffering damages passed in 2003 and a constitutional limit on lawyers’ fees in malpractice cases that voters approved in 2004 appear to be taking hold and stabilizing malpractice rates, those rates have stabilized at levels still considered uncomfortably high by many physicians. Some of these physicians choose to take the risky route of “going bare.”



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Florida Physicians – Going Bare

In insurance speak, “going bare” is when a physician decides to practice medicine without carrying any professional liability coverage. Florida is one of the few states that allow doctors to go bare, on the condition that they post bond, establish an escrow account or obtain an irrevocable letter of credit to cover malpractice verdicts up to $250,000 and hang a sign in their waiting room informing their patients that they practice without insurance.

Since 2003, the number of Florida physicians choosing to go bare has increased more than a third, the highest uninsured doctor rate in the country. Many choosing to go bare practice in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, where medical-malpractice premiums are the highest. Among the specialists more likely to go bare are Ob/Gyns, neurosurgeons, general, cardiovascular, orthopedic and thoracic surgeons, radiologists, trauma specialists, pulmonologists, gastroenterologists and nursing-home doctors. A 2006 survey by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that 35.6 percent of Florida Ob/Gyns are not covered by liability insurance.

Going bare - don't take the risk.

Going bare is not a decision to be made lightly. Not only does it mean that a malpractice judgment is paid out of the physician’s personal bank account, but it could cost them their medical license. The bottom line is that going bare is still a bad economic gamble for the vast majority of doctors.

In response to the number of FL physicians choosing to gamble by not carrying standard professional liability insurance, some companies are issuing insurance products to address the legal costs associated with going bare and receiving a claim. Medical Legal Expense Reimbursement Insurance policies provide reimbursement for legal expenses incurred for a medical malpractice claim against the provider, a peer review proceeding, a license review board proceeding and hospital privileges.

With medical liability rates continuing to decrease in Florida submit a quick and easy quote request and get the best coverage available.


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