D.C. Task Force Seeks Med-Mal Ideas to Keep Doctors from Fleeing

May 27, 2005

Hoping to stem the tide of doctors fleeing the nation’s capital for the suburbs, home of cheaper malpractice insurance, the city government is stepping in.

The District of Columbia Council is expected to consider legislation later this year on how to better protect patients from medical malpractice and also stop the exodus of doctors.

Council Health Committee chairman David Catania, I-At Large, hosted the first meeting of the Task Force on Medical Malpractice this week. By August, the panel will propose legislative solutions for better patient care, insurance reforms, and curbing frivolous lawsuits.

Catania joked that if doctors injured any lawyers during the discussions, the doctors were under Hippocratic oath to treat them.

“This has been a very contentious issue in this city,” said task force co-chair Bob Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association. “Getting all sides at the table is unprecedented.”

Peter Lavine, an orthopedic surgeon, said curbing insurance rates is critical. Lavine said opening a satellite office in Virginia in 2002 made his malpractice insurance rate drop from $62,000 a year to $28,500.

“Same doctor, same policy, same amount of coverage. The only difference was they started to consider me more of a Virginia doctor,” Lavine said.

Lavine aaid he is typical of the doctors trading the city for Maryland and Virginia, hoping to escape malpractice insurance rates that have been rising by an average of about 20 percent a year. Some specialists have seen 50 percent hikes.

He said doctors leaving town affects patients’ access to health care, the district’s economy and, ultimately, the ability of hospitals to stay open.

One insurance company covers most district doctors. Jay Angoff, a task force member and former Missouri insurance commissioner, said D.C. law does not require its insurance commissioner to approve rate hikes.

“In D.C., unlike Maryland, malpractice insurance companies can raise their insurance rates at will,” Angoff said. “If they want to double their rates, they can double their rates.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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