Saturday, June 19, 2004

Malpractice reform bills designed to retain doctors

Rising insurance rates drive many to leave Ohio practices

By Amy McCullough
Enquirer Columbus bureau

COLUMBUS - A few pieces of a much larger puzzle were put into place this week when Gov. Bob Taft signed two medical malpractice reform bills.

The bills are part of a movement to keep Ohio's doctors in the state by lowering liability insurance rates, which can cost over $100,000 for some high-risk specialties.

The increased cost of insurance is forcing some doctors into early retirement or to move their practices to other states where the rates aren't quite as high, according to an ad campaign run by the Ohio State Medical Association in early May.

The medical association says that rates will continue to increase as long as trial lawyers continue filing extensive "frivolous lawsuits."

But the trial lawyers say the insurance companies are at fault.

As the reason for the skyrocketing rates continues to be debated, most agree that Ohio's medical malpractice insurance market is in crisis.

The state medical association ad campaign attempted to educate Ohioans on the state's insurance crisis and encouraged people to support legislation aimed at curbing the problem. It named a bill sponsored by Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, that requires trial witnesses to be more qualified and provides a system for tracking frivolous lawsuits.

The second bill - sponsored by Sen. Scott Nein, R-Middletown - requires insurers to give notice of cancellations or rate increases 60 days before they take affect. The bill also requires that policyholders give 120 days notice before canceling their coverage.

"This change will ensure that any forms issued are protective of consumers and in compliance with current state law," Nein said during sponsor testimony of the bill.

Both bills go into effect 90 days from the date Taft signed them.

"The governor is concerned with the rising malpractice insurance rates in the state. When he signed the bills he called it a good start to stabilizing the malpractice insurance market and keeping doctors here in Ohio," spokesman Orest Holubec said. "But, it's just a start."

Tim Maglione, senior director of government relations for the state medical association, said he is optimistic that the bills will help stabilize the market because other states with similar legislation have seen positive results. He says it is not a question of if the market will stabilize but when.

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