Groups for and against capping noneconomic damage awards for medical malpractice both claimed that a Wyoming Healthcare Commission report upholds their positions.
The study suggests that capping noneconomic damages at $250,000 could reduce insurance company losses by 15 percent. The companies’ savings would be both in reduced damage awards and lower defense-related costs.
The report also said that 60.7 percent of all medical malpractice awards in Wyoming have been for noneconomic damages, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports.
But Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Ken Vines said rates for medical malpractice insurance would not necessarily drop in proportion with those figures, and maybe not at all. “You still may have an increase, but it would be a lesser amount,” he said.
Voters will decide Nov. 2 on two constitutional amendments that are intended to control the amount physicians and hospitals pay for malpractice insurance. Amendment C would authorize the Legislature to set up a panel to review medical malpractice cases before they go to court to weigh their legitimacy. Amendment D would authorize the Legislature to cap noneconomic damages for medical malpractice.
Proponents of the measures say doctors in certain specialties are leaving Wyoming or curtailing their services because of the rising cost of malpractice insurance.
Shauna Roberts, spokeswoman for Citizens for Real Insurance Reform, said the Healthcare Commission report is proof that capping noneconomic damages will not help.
“It’s pretty clear that the study says what the Citizens for Real Insurance Reform have already said,” she said. “We actually believe that the best way to help our doctors is not to surrender our constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
Instead, she said, insurance companies should be regulated and forced to justify any proposed rate hikes.
Robert Monger, chairman of the Partnership to Protect Affordable Healthcare and president of the Wyoming Medical Society, disagreed.
“This report reinforces what we have said all along: That the adoption of key medical liability reforms such as those allowed by amendments C and D will hold down health care costs and keep doctors in Wyoming,” he said in a news release.
Roberts said the study shows an increase in the number of doctors in the state from 1995 to 2001, the latest data used in the study. But it also showed that Wyoming had a higher rate of claims against doctors than occurred in most surrounding states: 3.61 per 100 doctors in 2001.
Among Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, only Montana had a higher rate, with 4.43 per 100. Idaho had the fewest: 1.72 per 100.
Wyoming had the third-highest average malpractice insurance rate.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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