Survey: Many Physicians Still Seek Medical Liability Reform--Physician Recruiting Firm Says “Crisis” Isn’t Over Across U.S.

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Survey by physician recruiting firm Jackson & Harris confirms that significant premium increases and the threat of lawsuits continue to affect where and how many U.S. physicians practice medicine. Eighty-one percent of crisis-state respondents, and 67% of all respondents, indicated the medical malpractice environment has caused them to change how they treat patients or to stop performing certain procedures.

April is National Humor Month, but many U.S. physicians aren’t laughing about delays in meaningful medical liability reform across the country, national physician recruiting firm Jackson & Harris (J&H) says. “Our 2005 medical liability survey results confirm that significant premium increases and the threat of lawsuits continue to affect where and how many U.S. physicians practice medicine—particularly in AMA “crisis states,” J&H Executive Vice President Tim Sheley notes.* (For more information on Jackson & Harris, visit http://www.jacksonandharris.com/medliability05).

In summer 2005 some 530 practicing physicians responded to the physician recruiting firm’s national online survey about medical liability insurance rates and related issues. Some highlights:

  • 81% of crisis-state respondents, and 67% of all respondents, indicated the medical malpractice environment has caused them to change how they treat patients or to stop performing certain procedures.
  • 66% of crisis-state respondents, and 49% of all respondents, have considered moving to another state to lower their medical liability insurance costs.
  • The number of crisis-state respondents reporting they had diverted “high-risk” patients to a hospital emergency department increased by 5%--to 56%.
  • 74% of all respondents, and 66% in “reform states,” favor federal legislation as the solution to the U.S. medical liability insurance crisis. In crisis states the percentage increased by 7%, to 78%.

“Physicians in crisis states are still hurting,” Sheley says. “Even in many states that have enacted tort reform medical liability insurance rate increases remained fairly high in 2005.” He noted that only about a third of all respondents to the J&H survey (35%) reported annual premium increases of less than 10%.

Interestingly, the number of reform-state respondents reporting premium increases of 50% or more over the past 5 years increased by 3% between 2004 and 2005 (from 25% to 28%).

“Our survey indicates that, across the board, more than half of U.S. physicians (52%) experienced rate increases of between 10 and 50 percent in 2005,” Sheley continues. “That’s double-digit insurance cost increases in a year when Congress barely staved off a decrease in the Medicare reimbursement rate.”

Nevertheless, Sheley says a comparison of 2005 survey results to 2004 results does indicate the medical liability climate is improving for physicians across the country. The indicators include:

  • The number of respondents reporting annual premium increases of 25% or more decreased by 20%--from 51% in 2004 to 31% in 2005.
  • Only 13% of 2005 respondents saw premium increases of more than 50%, compared to 25% of 2004 respondents.
  • 43% of physicians practicing independently in crisis states are seeking employment that will provide greater liability protection (down from 60% in 2004).
  • More than a third (34%) of physicians in crisis states have considered “going bare,” in other words dropping malpractice coverage altogether (a 7% decrease from 2004), in response to the high cost of premiums.

“Overall the situation appears to be improving, but with 20 states still in need of reform, the medical liability crisis continues in this country,” Sheley says.

Jackson & Harris is a full-service, retained physician recruiting firm founded in 2002 by physician recruiting pioneer Richard L. Jackson and industry veteran Charles (Chuck) Harris. Jackson & Harris is part of the Jackson Healthcare Solutions family of companies based in Alpharetta, Ga. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at http://www.jacksonandharris.com/medliability05.

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Billie Wickstrom
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