Retired Head of CAP in California Reflects on Medical Malpractice

By | March 18, 2015

He’s only a few weeks into official retirement, but James L. Weidner is already looking back fondly at the last 20 years as chief executive officer of Cooperative of American Physicians.

“It was just an absolutely wonderful experience,” said Weidner, who officially handed over reins of the Los Angeles, Calif.-based, doctor-owned writer of medical malpractice insurance on March 1.

CAP named as his replacement Sarah E. Pacini in January. Since the announcement Weidner had served primarily in an advisory role until his official departure at the beginning of the month.

From here on out Weidner said he plans to travel, golf and relax. He also plans to stay active in philanthropy.

The Pasadena, Calif.-resident serves on the board of the Chicago Sinfonietta, a symphony orchestra – he has a second home in Chicago – and he is also involved with the City of Hope, a research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. In 2009 he was given the Spirit of Life Award, the City of Hope’s most prestigious philanthropic honor.

James Weidner
James Weidner

Weidner also plans to remain actively involved with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, which raises money for cancer research.

Aside from the good life and helping others, he said he may eventually seek to give his years of expertise back to the industry, possibly by joining an insurance industry board of directors or two.

“I expect I’ll do some consulting and some strategic development kind of stuff and I hope that will be on a board or two in the insurance industry,” Weidner said.

Before taking the lead at CAP in 1995 Weidner was Western vice president for New York, N.Y.-based Home Insurance Co. from 1983 to 1995. That company was bought by Zurich.

Before Home Insurance he was with CNA Insurance Co., first in claims and then as vice president of human resources. He eventually ended up as general manager of the carrier’s Phoenix, Ariz. branch.

He got his start in the business after earning his degree in psychology from Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana in 1970. Following graduation he headed right into the insurance business by landing an entry-level job with Allstate in Chicago.

Looking back on his time as head of CAP, Weidner sees mostly improvements in the medical liability industry over the past few decades.

“The medical professional liability business has improved dramatically in the 20 years that I was there,” he said.

He credited much of that improvement to initiatives by the Physician Insurers Association of America, a trade association of more than 60 providers of medical malpractice coverage owned and operated by doctors and dentists.

PIAA and its members pushed several initiatives to help improve patient safety and operational risk management policies.

“That really resulted in a lot better medicine and a much better control of losses and claims and so the premiums of this coverage have not escalated dramatically,” he said.

He believes efforts to improve safety and to continue ensuring best risk management practices will also help the industry continue to thrive in coming years.

“I think you will continue to see stable pricing and I think you will see even more emphasis on patient safety,” he said.

The future of the industry may be impacted by the Affordable Care Act by bringing new businesses into the field of medicine and medical insurance, and putting more nurse practitioners and more physicians’ assistants in positions of performing procedures under the supervision of doctors, Weidner said.

“I think you’re going to see that there are different kinds of players getting into medicine,” he said, adding that changes in healthcare may also lead to more belt tightening. “I think you’re going to see some controlling of costs.”

One of the last big initiatives Weidner worked on as head of CAP was to take a lead role in an industry-wide effort to defeat Proposition 46, the Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cap and Drug Testing of Doctors Initiative that was put on California’s ballot last year.

The proposition would have raised the cap on the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, signed into law in 1975 and capping noneconomic pain and suffering damages at $250,000, to $1.1 million to account for inflation. It would also have required doctors with hospital privileges to be tested randomly or when a physician is suspected of abusing alcohol or drugs or when a mistake occurs in treatment.

It was considered by the industry to be a potential threat to earnings, and opponents of the measure said it would have increased medical costs and reduced medical access for some.

Prop. 46 was defeated 67.1 percent to 32.9 percent. The gap between “yes” and “no” voters was more than 1.7 million votes.

“We soundly defeated that as an industry and as a public and I think that’s the right thing because this jackpot mentality may help a couple of people, but controlling costs for access to care for all California citizens is really, really important,” Weidner said.

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