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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

Kansas City Star
Feb 16, 2003

by PAUL WENSKE

California Experience

If you've been following the medical malpractice insurance crisis in Missouri and several other states, you know doctors and insurers want to limit how much jurors can award people injured by negligent doctors.

The argument is that jury verdicts are out of control and malpractice lawsuits have become more lucrative than the lottery, enriching lawyers at the expense of doctors.

The insurers want to cap noneconomic damages at $250,000, a limit they say has successfully lowered medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors in California.

But consumers aren't getting the whole story.

There is an equal argument to be made that premiums in California actually didn't decline until 1988, when voters passed Proposition 103, which gave the state and voters new tools to investigate and limit the insurance industry's rates and practices.

And it wasn't just doctors who benefited, but homeowners and car owners whose insurance premiums also were going through the roof. Insurers spent $80 million fighting the new regulations.

The proposition not only limits how much insurers can raise rates, but also how low they can take their rates to undercut their competitors, which got a lot of insurers in financial trouble.

Not only did the proposition freeze some rates, but others were rolled back by the state's insurance commissioner.

What did it mean for doctors?

"Malpractice insurers had to refund money to doctors," said Doug Heller, spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights in California.

By the way, there's very little, if any, real regulation of insurance rates in Missouri. See the comparison now?
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Call Paul Wenske, consumer affairs writer, at (816) 234-4454 or send e-mail to pwenske@kcstar.com



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