Massachusetts physicians brace for another liability rate jump

ProMutual Group might raise medical liability premiums elsewhere in the Northeast.

By Damon Adams — Posted June 14, 2004

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Many Massachusetts physicians expect to see an average double-digit increase in medical liability insurance rates for the fourth consecutive year.

ProMutual Group, the state's largest medical liability insurer, told the Massachusetts Medical Society that it is planning an average rate increase of 11%. The insurer is filing the rate increase with the state. Pending review, the increase would take effect July 1.

The three previous years, the average yearly increase by ProMutual was 20%, 12.5% and 14%, the society said. "It keeps getting worse and worse," said Alan C. Woodward, MD, an emergency department physician and MMS president.

Diagnostic radiologists will see the biggest rise in the new 2004 rates: a 32% jump in premiums, the society said. Neurologists are expected to get a 26% increase.

Base rates from ProMutual, which covers nearly 10,000 doctors in Massachusetts, would be about $97,000 for obstetrician-gynecologists, more than $90,000 for neurosurgeons and $72,000 for orthopedic surgeons.

"The amount of increase is sizably lower than that of last year," said ProMutual spokesman Mike Kubik. "This year's increase will vary considerably depending upon specialty."

During the past three years, ProMutual also has increased rates in other states where it insures physicians, Kubik said. The company covers about 16,000 physicians and dentists and hundreds of hospitals and clinics in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"We'll probably be seeing rate increases again in those areas in 2004," Kubik said.

Massachusetts doctors also learned that the state has asked Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Co., which insures about 1,600 physicians in the state, to withdraw from the state's liability market because of concerns about the insurer's financial condition. Physicians Insurance Agency of Massachusetts, a broker and a subsidiary of the Massachusetts Medical Society, notified physicians of the state's request and said doctors likely would be picked up by ProMutual.

Nationwide, doctors and insurers said premiums were increasing because of higher jury awards while some lawyers and consumer groups say insurers are trying to make up for bad stock market investments.

The Massachusetts society is optimistic about relief because of federal and state proposals to address rising rates. At press time, state legislators were considering medical liability reforms that included limits on the types of expert witnesses in trials but no provisions for caps.

"Hopefully, we'll get a long-term solution to this crisis," Dr. Woodward said.

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