Cost of malpractice insurance rising

Monday, July 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The rising cost of malpractice insurance could drive some doctors out of Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association says almost every physician in the state will see a 25 to 30% rate increase starting next year whether or not the doctor is involved in a lawsuit. News on Six Reporter Patrina Adger explains how local doctors are reacting to news.

Oklahoma is one of thirty states reaching a crisis when it comes to rising costs of malpractice insurance. Doctors here say the problem is high punitive damage awards given to patients who sue. One local doctor says something needs to be done. Dr. Stephen Adelson has practiced pediatrics in Oklahoma for more than 35 years. He says there's a significant amount of problems with malpractice suits and rates these days, but he's living with it. "Most of us practice the best medicine we can. We try to always do the best thing, but I don't care who you are there are going to be mistakes, we're human."

He says he's paying about $4,500 for liability insurance. And he says it's a bitter pill to swallow knowing he can be sued for more money than he has insurance for. "I don't think physicians who make mistakes do it except as a mistake and to be saddled with many millions of dollars in a judgment seems to be unreasonable."

The American Medical Association says 12 states are already in a healthcare crisis because of doctors leaving. 30 states including Oklahoma are on the brink of a crisis. And six states are currently doing okay. Tulsa County Medical Society's Executive Director Paul Patton believes it's because those states have caps on the amount of punitive damages patients' get as a result of injury in a malpractice suit. "Those states have done the work for us. They've indicated that there are caps and amounts that people can settle on and agree to that are reasonable."

He says high premiums as a result of large insurance payouts will possibly force doctors to cut back on procedures or retire early, which will affect all patients in the long run.

But Dr. Adelson says while he'd like to see lower premiums, the hike in rates won't force him to leave the Sooner State, at least not for now.