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Yes - that strange noise that you heard emanating throughout the State Albany on Friday August 22 was a gigantic sigh of relief - by every physician in New York.
Governor David Paterson announced that he had signed legislation to freeze medical malpractice insurance rates for one year in an effort to provide them with desperately needed premium relief and to avoid up to a 30 percent increase.
From the smallest specialty to the most complicated type of practice, the state’s physicians pay premiums ranging from $25,000 to $300,000 a year each and these premiums have continued to rise, as more and more lawsuits are filed by patients against the profession and juries’ awards climb to new records.
The insurance companies who charge doctors outrageous fees for malpractice insurance are ultimately endangering the welfare and good health of all us with or without medical insurance.
The way medicine is structured, a surgeon’s income is dependent on how may operations he does. Higher premium costs force a surgeon to do more and more operations. Many specialists such as neurosurgeons give up operating on the brain entirely, focusing on operations to the spine where there are fewer lawsuits.
Young physicians who are already saddled with debt from attending college and medical school may decline to practice in New York State because many other states have much lower premiums. Established doctors may decline complex cases for fear of being sued for any mistakes. Many veteran doctors choose to retire instead of absorbing another rate increase from their carriers.
The bill Governor Paterson signed also suspends an anticipated surcharge until June 30, 2009. Without this legislation, many physicians would have seen a rate increase as high as 30 percent.
“I want to thank the legislature for stabilizing malpractice rates for the short term, thereby ensuring that our doctors can continue to provide quality care in New York without getting suffocated by more back-breaking fiscal burdens,” said Paterson. “However, our work is now cut out for us, and we remain committed to creating comprehensive and meaningful medical malpractice reform.”
Eric Dinallo, Superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department and Chair of the Medical Malpractice Liability Taskforce, said, “The Insurance Department did not levy the surcharges or raise the rates as would have been required by law and by the insurance companies’ financial condition in hopes of reform. While comprehensive reform has not yet been achieved, much groundwork is being laid. We will continue to work with the legislature, the medical community and the lawyers to achieve meaningful reform to reduce costs, reduce the number of people injured by malpractice, protect those who are injured, improve the financial health of the insurance companies and create a competitive market for medical malpractice insurance.”
We hope all sides can reach a workable solution to this multi-dimensional crisis within the period Paterson has given them. We will be watching.

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