Liability insurance rates stabilize in Illinois

But physicians warn that security could disappear if the state's noneconomic damage cap is overturned in a case pending before the state Supreme Court.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted July 29, 2009

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Thousands of Illinois physicians will see their medical liability insurance premiums hold steady again in the 2009-10 policy year after the state's largest carrier announced it would not change base liability insurance rates for the third year in a row.

In addition, ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co. will continue to issue credits, totaling about $21 million, to eligible policyholders.

The physician-owned insurer credited the stabilizing liability climate to an overall drop in claims filings after the state Legislature enacted tort reforms in 2005. But ISMIE executives warned that high jury verdicts still plague the court system, and recent rate improvements could disappear if the state's $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages is overturned by a constitutional challenge pending in the Illinois Supreme Court.

"We must remain cautiously alert," ISMIE Chair Harold L. Jensen, MD, said in a statement. "Until the Illinois Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the reforms, severity will continue to be an issue for Illinois doctors and their patients' access to care."

In November 2008, the high court heard oral arguments in the case after a trial court found that the cap violated the separation of powers between the Legislature and the judiciary. The Illinois State Medical Society and the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. They urged the high court to uphold the award limit, which physicians say has helped temper medical liability costs and bring much-needed specialists to the state.

But the law is not without opposition from state trial lawyers, who argue that the one-size-fits-all cap is arbitrary and unfair to patients. A ruling by the state Supreme Court is expected this year.

The case comes at a time when physicians are pushing for medical liability reform to be part of comprehensive health system reform. While President Obama has expressed an opposition to damage caps, his administration has engaged the medical community in discussions on other potential liability options.

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