Recruiting Doctors to Nevada Remains Difficult Due to Medical Costs

While liability premiums have stabilized, recruiting doctors to Nevada remains difficult because of six-figure annual medical insurance costs, board members of a doctor-owned insurance company told lawmakers recently.

“Three years ago, we had no plans ever to be in the insurance business,” said Dr. Stephen Daniel McBride, chairman of Nevada Mutual Insurance. “Without it, I am not sure how many of us would be here today. We are not there yet. But we have stemmed the tide in rates.”

With the Legislature’s assistance, the doctor-owned company was created in 2002 in response to skyrocketing insurance premiums that caused some doctors to threaten to leave Nevada. The company provides liability insurance to 1,700 Nevada doctors, about half the state total.

In response to questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members, McBride and other board members could not say specifically how many doctors left Nevada and whether they are staying because of the new company.

Several years might pass before the malpractice law changes will affect the premiums paid by doctors, McBride added. Earlier this month, the company awarded its members an average 2.5 percent reduction in premium charges.

In a special session in 2002, the Legislature limited the amount of noneconomic or “pain and suffering” damages an injured patient could receive to $350,000. That law, however, allowed for higher awards in exceptional cases of malpractice.

But voters in November’s election amended the law to allow no exceptions to the $350,000 cap.

McBride noted some obstetricians still pay $140,000 a year for liability insurance. Recruiting new doctors to Nevada remains difficult because of those high insurance costs, he added.

“Costs of providing service in Nevada were exorbitant,” he said. “Still is. We hope we are getting back to the level where it is fair and people can afford to practice here.”

Also testifying on the effects of the changes was one of the key opponents, Bill Bradley, a lobbyist for the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association. He told the committee the deck is stacked against injured patients.

Bradley said 43 straight malpractice cases in Clark County have gone against injured patients. The process to reform medical malpractice insurance has “politicized the judiciary,” he added.

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