Malpractice insurance premiums may double for Oklahoma doctors

Friday, January 30th 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A medical malpractice insurance provider that covers many of the state's osteopathic physicians has filed a request to double its premiums and plans to be more restrictive in issuing policies.

The Medical Protective Co., which last year raised rates 20%, has asked state Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher to approve a 105% increase in the average premium it charges 2,294 Oklahoma doctors. Some doctors could see premiums jump by 165%. If approved, the rates will take effect June 1.

In November, the state's largest malpractice provider, Physicians Liability Insurance Co., won approval for rate hikes over each of the next three years that will eventually result in an 82.8 increase in premiums for more than 4,000 state doctors.

Medical Protective is the state's second-largest malpractice insurance provider.

Many osteopathic physicians are concerned about the company's decision to be more restrictive in its underwriting standards, said Lynette McLain, executive director of the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association.

Among those osteopathic physicians now unable to obtain coverage from Medical Protective are residents, new physicians not joining an established medical practice and any doctor who has had multiple claims in recent years, McLain said.

``Our concern is the underwriting,'' she said. ``The rate increase is something that was expected, although I think 105 percent was way more than they expected.''

John Novaria, spokesman for Medical Protective, said claims and lawsuits have produced losses for the company in Oklahoma.

According to the company's filing with the state insurance department, it paid out $1.12 in claims for every $1 in malpractice premiums in 2002.

``We are selective about the risks we write because we want to ensure that we are in business for a long time to protect our good policyholders,'' Novaria said. ``I think our bigger focus is on examining each application on its own merits and just being very, very selective and very careful and very precise in our underwriting more than anything.''

Gov. Brad Henry and legislators have promised to address the issue of tort reform in the upcoming legislative session. Proponents of restricting civil litigation say excessive jury awards are driving up the cost of insurance, while trial lawyers say the system works for plaintiffs who deserve compensation and that litigation is not driving the rate increases.

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