In February of 2005, legislation in Georgia went into effect that enacted sweeping medical malpractice reform severely limiting victims' rights. These reforms limited jury awards for pain and suffering to $350,000, required tougher standards for expert witnesses and included incentives for victims to settle their cases prior to trial. At the time the reforms were proposed, promises were made that enactment of the reforms would reduce malpractice insurance premiums for the state's doctors. A recent study by the Associated Press of state insurance records reveals those promises were empty, as six of the state's top medical malpractice insurers have increased their premiums, some by as much as 33%.
In a scenario that is all too familiar, doctors, hospitals and other business lobbies supported the legislation, claiming that it would lead to lower insurance premiums because it encouraged speedy-out-of-court settlements and penalized victims who asserted frivolous claims. On the other hand, plaintiffs' lawyers and patient advocacy groups countered that the proposed reforms would not reduce insurance premiums, particularly because of the lack of real competition among insurers covering medical providers. Events since the reforms became effective show that the claims of lower premiums were nothing more that wishful thinking. In fact, some of the increased premiums allowed were less than originally requested by the insurers.
An article written by Greg Bluestein of the AP noted comments by John Oxendine, Georgia's insurance commissioner. Mr. Oxendine that he and his department have little flexibility in curbing malpractice insurance premiums because of the lack of competition. Mr. Oxendine also said that he was focusing on methods of enticing more insurers to write malpractice insurance in Georgia.
The rate increases have occasioned various comments. Allie Wall, director of consumer group Georgia Watch, said, "More than a year has gone by, yet Georgia doctors have not saved a penny on insurance, as promised, and the insurance companies are still raking in record profits." Not all of the critical comments, however, came from opponents of reform. Dr. Kelly Thrasher, who practices internal medicine and has seen his insurance premiums rise from $9,000 to $17,000 since enactment of the reform, pulled no punches when he said, "I feel like I've been duped. [The debate] pitted doctors against lawyers because I think there's a natural rivalry, but a lot of my colleagues were hoodwinked."
Source: Associated Press