Penn. Gov. Orders Malpractice Relief

December 31, 2001

Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker backed up his call for the reform of the state’s medical malpractice insurance system (See IJ Website, Dec.27) with an executive order to delay collection of the surcharge for the calendar year 2002 from the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA) on behalf of those physicians it covers until June 30, 2002.

The actions are emergency steps, said the announcement, to provide temporary relief from the high costs of medical-malpractice insurance until comprehensive reform legislation is passed early next year. “While we continue to look at ways to overhaul what has become a financially burdensome system that threatens the quality of healthcare for Pennsylvanians, this temporary measure will provide some immediate relief to doctors in the short term,” Gov. Schweiker stated.

The governors letters, sent to the Medical Professional Liability Catastrophe (CAT) Fund Director John Reed, and to Insurance Commissioner Diane Koken, requires the JUA to delay the deadline for submission of the CAT Fund surcharge by physicians until April 30, 2002.”

As the insurer of last resort, JUA is obligated to insure all physicians who apply for coverage. With private medical-malpractice insurers refusing to write new policies and, in some cases, declining to renew existing ones, the number of physicians forced to obtain coverage through JUA could double in 2002. However, insurance through JUA is reported to be substantially more expensive than insurance purchased in the private market.

Gov. Schweiker, in separate letters to Reed and Koken, said the delay will provide JUA physicians immediate, albeit temporary, relief from the burden of paying for both primary insurance and the CAT Fund surcharge at the same time.

He commented that “The lack of capacity in the current medical-malpractice insurance market has forced increased numbers of physicians to obtain coverage through the JUA. As an insurer of last resort, the JUA premiums are exceedingly higher than comparable private sector rates when private coverage is available. As a result, the cost of medical-malpractice insurance is driving some physicians out of Pennsylvania or into retirement; forcing others to restrict their practices by eliminating surgery or delivery of babies; and subjecting yet others to exorbitant prices for medical-malpractice insurance. Ultimately this crisis threatens the quality and availability of medical care in the Commonwealth.”

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