Malpractice Rates Rise for Many Wyoming Doctors

May 17, 2004

One of Wyoming’s major malpractice insurance providers has been granted an 11.9 percent increase in rates charged to doctors.

The Doctors Co., which is based in Napa, Calif., and serves 31 percent of the state’s doctors, had requested a 13.1 percent hike in a March filing with the Wyoming Department of Insurance.

The increase of 11.9 percent, which goes into effect July 1, represents an average for its clients. Some physicians will see larger or smaller hikes, or none at all. General surgery specialists will be hardest hit, with a 25-percent jump.

The rate hike comes at a tough time for the state’s doctors. In March, OHIC Insurance Co. announced it was pulling out of Wyoming, leaving 381 physicians and seven hospitals scrambling to find a new insurance provider.

OHIC, which provides insurance to 43 percent of the doctors in Wyoming, will not write new policies after Oct. 1, and another insurer has not yet taken over its business in the state.

The Medical Protective Co., based in Fort Wayne, Ind., insures a few doctors in Wyoming and has been looking at filling the void, state Insurance Commissioner Ken Vines said. The Utah Medical Insurance Association also is taking applications.

Wendy Curran, executive director of the Wyoming Medical Society, a doctors group, said in the past two weeks she has heard from nearly 20 physicians who are leaving the state or changing their practices.

“We’re seeing physicians not waiting to get a new quote,” she said. “They’re just saying, ‘I know it will be higher. I can’t afford it. I’m going to make a change.”‘

The Medical Society and hospital officials across the state pushed hard during this year’s legislative session for a proposed constitutional amendment that would have limited certain damage awards in malpractice cases.

The measure, seen as one way to stem rising insurance costs, was defeated amid concern it would not be fair to a patient’s right to redress. Opponents also argued that doctors in states that have enacted caps on damages haven’t necessarily seen lower rates.

Curran believes the Legislature should hold a special session and not wait until 2005 to address rising malpractice rates and the loss of doctors in many communities.

Rhonda Woodard, a Cheyenne attorney and member of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, said a special session is unnecessary given the amount of time lawmakers have already spent on insurance reform.

“Information needs to be gathered that’s very pointed as to why on one hand we don’t have any increases in verdicts or settlements, but we’re having these increases in rates,” she said. “At the moment I don’t think in Wyoming we have a very clear picture about it.”

The Doctor’s Co. had initially requested a 39 percent increase for general surgeons, but Vines asked the firm to consider 25 percent, which will affect 13 doctors.

About 50 doctors in family practice with no minor surgery and no obstetrics will see an increase of 11.4 percent. The company will increase rates for 11 obstetricians by 10.8 percent.

Normally the state has no authority over insurance premiums, but medical malpractice insurance is considered noncompetitive here since so few companies sell policies.

To be approved, rates cannot be “excessive, inadequate or discriminatory,” according to the Wyoming Insurance Code.

Vines has to walk a fine line in balancing costs to doctors against rates that allow an insurance company to remain profitable and continue to operate in the state.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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