Georgia physicians must reveal if they don't have liability insurance

Details will be made public on the state medical board's website. Doctors must answer patients' questions about coverage.

By — Posted June 6, 2011

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Georgia physicians now must disclose publicly whether they are covered by medical liability insurance under a new law signed by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

The law requires that doctors inform the Georgia Composite Medical Board if they are insured. The board will make the information available on its website as part of a physician's public profile.

Physicians also must tell patients if they are covered by insurance when asked by patients, according to the law, signed May 11. Declining to inform patients about coverage could result in disciplinary action by the board.

"The patient has a right to know if a physician carries malpractice insurance," Rep. Ben Watson, MD, said in a statement. He sponsored the measure. "This is part of how a patient can judge a physician."

The Medical Assn. of Georgia supported the bill and was pleased to see it become law, said Donald Palmisano Jr., executive director of MAG.

The association views the disclosure as part of necessary physician transparency, he said. The requirement was added to the state's Patient Right to Know Act, which in 2001 required the medical board to create public profiles detailing doctors' experience, education level and any court judgments, settlements or disciplinary actions.

The medical association does not keep data on how many physicians in the state are insured, but Palmisano said the majority of Georgia's nearly 18,000 physicians are covered.

A unique law

The Georgia law may be the first of its kind to add "insurance coverage" to the list of public disclosures required of physicians.

Drew Carlson, spokesman for the Federation of State Medical Boards, said the federation is not aware of other states that have similar laws. The Illinois Assembly on May 17 passed the Patients' Right to Know Act, which contains disclosure requirements comparable to Georgia's law. At this article's deadline, the bill had not yet been signed into law.

But some states have laws requiring physicians to carry insurance to practice, Carlson said. At least seven states, including Colorado, New York and Wisconsin, mandate that physicians obtain a minimum level of professional liability insurance. Other states require that physicians carry minimum levels of liability insurance to qualify for state liability reforms, including damages caps, according to American Medical Association data.

Georgia does not mandate that physicians have insurance, said a spokesman for the state insurance commissioner. AMA policy says each physician should be free to determine whether to carry liability coverage and the amount of such coverage.

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