Recently, I read an article by Dr. Belk that interested me so much and challenged my own perceptions about this issue that I wanted to discuss this issue in a blog post here :). I, like so many others, thought that medical malpractice insurance was becoming so outrageously expensive for doctors that many were going out of practice due to it. I also felt that is why there was such a HUGE demand in the USA to limit medical malpractice claims. I based my thoughts on having visited my own doctor one day to be handed a form stating that I was aware that she did not carry medical malpractice insurance.
She was a young and up-and-coming relatively new doctor. She was VERY good at patient care, accurate diagnosis, and bedside manner. I was shocked at her willingness to not pay for malpractice insurance. I was concerned for her, not myself. To me, it was like owning a home that you worked all of your life to pay off, and then refusing to pay homeowners insurance to protect your investment from fire, floods, etc. I am the type of person that would NOT sue a doctor for malpractice unless the malpractice was so egregious and blatant that I truly felt neglected of good care.
In fact, I once had an ERCP procedure done and they nicked my pancreas causing pancreatitis (It was a severe case and my life had been endangerered.). However, I felt it was a “possible” complication of the procedure. I felt my doctor had been very careful, and she was very concerned about me and my health visiting me daily in the hospital. I may have had a case for malpratice, but would not have put the young doctor under that type of scrutiny because I feel she was careful, showed care, and, well, accidents happen. Having said all of this, I was worried to death about my new family practice doctor flying without the net of malpractice insurance.
I asked her, “Dr. ____, do you realize that one serious medical malpractice claim would destroy the career that you've worked so hard for.” Her response, “I do realize that, but I have to leave it in the good Lord's hands, Dawn, because I cannot afford the insurance coverage.” I was under the impression that this insurance must be in the $50,000 or up range. So, I read Dr. Belks article with the perception that doctors were struggling hard to afford medical malpractice insurance. My thoughts and idea on this subject were dispelled after reading his article, and I wanted to share the basics of what I learned here with you because it's an important issue.
I have written many blog articles and always encourage my students and billers in the field to create their own opinions on the issues affecting the field today. However, an intelligent person will change their thoughts and opinions when presented with information that conflicts with it, and has a solid basis. This is what happened to me and my thoughts on medical malpractice insurance. Dr. Belks article was a tad complicated to understand with all the statistics and charts. So, I am going to relay what I learned in my own words and thoughts, and then you can make an informed decision if you agree with my new found conclusions or not. 🙂
Medical Malpractice Insurance – Of Interest to Medical Billers
How much does medical malpractice insurance really cost? Right now, write down a figure for a family practice physician and a surgeon making your best guess. Then I will explain the truth of the situation. You may be quite shocked at what you learn. Most people when asked this question will toss out numbers like $30,000 to $150,000 per year for medical malpractice coverage.
Medical malpractice ran about $3,000 a year in 2012. Many doctors are actually unaware of how much they pain malpractice insurance as their accountants take care of this. Some doctors may pay up to $6,000 a year. Now surgeons usually do have higher malpractice insurance costs for obvious reasons. That can range from $18,000 to $40,000 a year. Many doctors have been pulled into court at least once in their medical career but most malpractice cases are considered invalid and do not pay out. Please keep in mind that specialized surgeons make much more money than family physicians. So, $18,000-$40,000 a year isn't THAT high.
In fact medical malpractice insurance rates have gone DOWN in the past few years. Some feel this is due to malpractice caps but into place by each state. However, this may or may not be the case. We hear so much in the news and in the industry about how hard it is for doctors to get malpractice insurance. However, as we can see by the figures noted above, it's not true. Most doctors do not even get sued. They may be hauled into court as expert witnesses in cases, or in defending themselves in a case that usually takes years to clear, but most cases are found to have no merit. Of course we hear in the news of the HUGE winners and the tons of money people received. Also, our TV nightly TV ads are loaded with attorneys running ads for class-action cases against drug manufacturers for faulty drugs and their side effects, so the myth continues.
In looking back on my own family doctor that told me she did not carry malpractice insurance, I have to wonder why she could not afford $3,000-$5,000 a year in insurance to protect herself and her practice. That is only $250 to $300 a month. Most car payments are more than that. I wonder if my dear doctor really researched the costs or if she made a decision based on the myth that even I believed about the costs involved.
By: Dawn Moreno, PhD, CPC, CBCS, CMAA, MTC. Lives in the beautiful Southwest United States and has been an instructor for medical coding/billing for the past 7 years. Interested in quality medical billing training?
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