The state of New York leads the United States in medical malpractice awards per capita at $36. This means that each year, enough money gets awarded to victims in medical malpractice suits to give every New York State resident $36. To put that number into context, the state of New York is currently home to 19,889,657 people. That is a lot of money for malpractice insurance providers to pay out, and that is why malpractice insurance is so expensive in New York.
The Republican party has recognized the strain that malpractice lawsuits put on the medical industry, and that is why part of the proposed Republican health bill, that would replace the current Affordable Care Act, attempts to limit the kinds of lawsuits that can be filed in the name of medical liability. Opponents of this part of the Republican bill say that limiting the ability for victims to file lawsuits could take away the most effective weapon victims have. However, medical industry experts insist that if something is not done to curtail medical malpractice lawsuits, then the problem will only get worse.
Consequences Of Rising Medical Malpractice Insurance In NY
In New York State, doctors are retiring or closing their practices to join hospitals or emergency care organizations to avoid paying the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance. It is estimated that New York State needs at least 1,000 new doctors right now just to keep up with the growing needs of an aging population. But as the costs of being a doctor rise, the likelihood of enticing new doctors to set up shop in New York falls.
New York State is filled with rural areas that spread for miles and offer very little modern services. There are large stretches of the Adirondack mountains that have no medical facilities at all, which means that tourists and residents often have to drive an hour or more to get any kind of medical attention. With the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance getting out of control, doctors find it impossible to make a living in rural areas, and that is leaving New York State in a bind when it comes to the quality of its health care system.
Medical Liability Laws Putting A Strain On Doctors
The state of New York Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently passed a series of medical liability laws that will only make things worse for doctors trying to run practices in New York. The new laws put more pressure on doctors to try and prove they were not negligent in the treatment of their patients. Because of the increased pressure of malpractice, doctors in New York are forced to order more tests than in any other state. This increases the cost of health care for private insurers, and for state-funded programs such as Medicaid. As those costs go up, the health care system in New York becomes more fragile.
One area where doctors will face increased scrutiny is in dealing with cancer patients. The window of opportunity to sue a doctor for not properly diagnosing cancer has been pushed back to two and one-half years. Sometimes a doctor will miss a lump on a scan or misdiagnose a cancer patient and the condition is allowed to grow for years.
By the time the cancer is properly diagnosed, it could be too late for adequate treatment. This law now allows patients to reach back two and one-half years to sue the doctor who initially missed the diagnosis, regardless of whether that doctor is a cancer expert or not.
The State Of Malpractice Insurance In New York
All of these changes are occurring as the largest medical malpractice insurer in New York State, Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers (PRI), is still involved in a series of financial scandals that is causing the medical malpractice insurance industry to be extremely unstable. The other problem for medical malpractice insurance in New York is the growing proliferation of insurers from outside the state offering inexpensive coverage to doctors in New York.
PRI is part of a five-company system in New York where all five companies contribute to a safety fund that pays out settlements even if one of the companies fails. This system also gives doctors an added level of medical malpractice insurance they can utilize if a settlement amount exceeds their coverage. With PRI teetering on the brink of collapse, the stability of that fund has been called into question and the entire system is under threat of being undermined.
Out-of-state insurers do not have to contribute to that fund, which means they can offer medical malpractice insurance to doctors at a lower rate than in-state companies. The problem for the state is that, with many doctors not using New York based companies, the fund that was created is being stretched too thin. Doctors who have out-of-state coverage would still have access to that fund, even if their insurance carrier does not contribute to it. As the number of medical malpractice settlements continues to rise in New York, the ability of the malpractice insurance industry to keep up with payments is being threatened.
Mistakes Being Made While Treating Patients
With doctors continually dropping out of the malpractice insurance system, the amount being paid into the system continues to drop. Overworked doctors who are always trying to stay ahead of medical malpractice lawsuits are taking more time and money to do tests that may or may not be necessary, and this can lead to mistakes being made in treating patients.
Through all of this, the amount being paid out in malpractice settlements is increasing and the insurance system used to pay those settlements is fragile. If PRI collapses, then that will put significant strain on a system prepared to collapse. Without new doctors entering into private practice in New York State, this problem will only get worse.
Working Towards Balance In The Medical Community
The state of New York is working together with the State University of New York at Buffalo to try and bring back balance to the medical community throughout the state. Through a series of grants from the state, downtown Buffalo is being transformed into one of the largest and productive medical corridors in the country. The Roswell Park Cancer Institute is gaining worldwide recognition for its treatment of cancer patients, and Buffalo Children’s Hospital continues to be recognized as one of the finest pediatric facilities in the United States.
While doctors are hard to find in the rural areas of New York State, they are getting easier to find in places like Buffalo. It is hard to say at this point if the work being done in Buffalo will spawn a whole new wave of private practices throughout the state, or if the end result will be the expansion of hospitals and emergency medical centers. But if something does not change with respect to medical coverage in the state of New York, then the problems stemming from not enough doctors could be tragic to the New York economy.
As all of these changes continue, the New York State Assembly continues to make it easier for patients to file medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors. Time will tell if doctors in New York decide to band together to offer medical care in a format that reduces the costs associated with malpractice insurance, or if this new generation of doctors being trained in New York State decides to strike out on their own and bring some balance back into the medical malpractice equation.