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Published: 4/1/2005

Medical liability crisis persists, draft report says

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A special state commission is preparing a report that says Ohio physicians continue to face a malpractice insurance crisis despite signs that the pace of premium increases may be slowing.

The Ohio Medical Malpractice Commission yesterday haggled over a draft of a report that must reach Gov. Bob Taft and the General Assembly this month, two years after passing a law that limits what plaintiffs may collect for pain, suffering, and other noneconomic damages in malpractice litigation.

The 10-member commission of doctors, hospitals, lawyers, and insurance industry representatives was created under the tort reform law.

"While the Ohio medical liability market is beginning to recover, it is still in a state of crisis,'' the draft reads. "Positive signs in the marketplace do not mean that doctors are no longer facing extremely high premiums. Although rate increases are stabilizing, doctors in Ohio are still suffering from the effects of rising rates. Premiums are overall much higher than they were just five years ago."

While the majority appeared to accept that insurance companies' lack of profitability and litigation costs have driven the "unpredictable and volatile nature" of the malpractice insurance market, members disagreed over how far the report should go.

Steve Collier, a Toledo trial lawyer who served as the lone dissenting voice in the room yesterday, argued that the draft's recitation of facts appears to be designed to set up a predestined conclusion in support of tort reform.

He questioned the draft's presentation of the fact that nine malpractice insurance writers have left Ohio's insurance market since 2000.

"Four of those left the [national] market altogether,'' he said. "Two of those were not even listed in the top 49 [policy writers] in 2000. The other three comprise 5.96 percent of the market. Reading this, it makes it sound like there's a big exodus from the market, when in reality it affected about 6 percent of the market."

D. Brent Mulgrew, executive director of the Ohio State Medical Association, argued that the report should be packed with enough fact and testimony to bring home the "degree of gravity" of the situation to lawmakers, some of whom weren't around when the law was debated and passed two years ago.

"We do not want to simplify it to the point where it is legislative Pablum," he said.

While malpractice rates had been rising as much as 31 percent annually in recent years, Ann Womer Benjamin, Ohio's insurance director and commission chairman, said it appears the average hike this year could be less than 10 percent.

"I think without question a majority of the commission members recognizes that there is still a crisis. ," she said. "We're not just looking at rate increases this year in evaluating whether or not there is still a crisis in Ohio. We are looking at the fact that premiums for doctors are still very high, the fact that doctors still are leaving Ohio or contemplating leaving."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com or

614-221-0496.



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