Medical malpractice insurance - med mal insurance - protects doctors from lawsuits by patients who claim the medical services received were below a reasonable standard of care. Without this type of insurance, a doctor might have to pay out of pocket to cover a damages award. The cost of medical malpractice insurance often determines whether solo practitioners and small medical firms can practice without affiliating with a hospital that can cover this cost.
Med Mal Insurance Is Required in Most States
Most states require doctors to carry professional liability insurance. In these states, even a doctor practicing alone in a small town must have enough money to carry malpractice insurance before accepting any patients. In a few states, such as Florida, medical malpractice insurance is optional. Doctors can choose to self-insure or otherwise manage their own liability risk.
Med Mal Premiums Vary by Specialty
Most insurance companies set premiums for malpractice insurance by considering a doctor's practice specialty and geographical location. This is unlike other types of insurance, such as car insurance, which base premiums on experience level. The high malpractice premiums common in some specialties, like ob/gyn, have led doctors to stop practicing in those areas.
Med Mal Insurers Offer Claims-Made Policies
Traditionally, medical malpractice policies covered claims based upon when the malpractice occurred. If the doctor was covered at the time the malpractice occurred, that policy would accept the claim, regardless of whether the policy was still in effect when the patient filed the lawsuit. Currently, insurance companies are switching to claims-made malpractice policies that only cover claims made during the policy term, regardless of when the malpractice took place. This change creates the need for doctors to take out additional malpractice insurance to cover the time period between the malpractice event and the filing of a lawsuit.
Solo and Small Practices Are More Vulnerable
Doctors who practice alone or in small groups are more vulnerable to rising medical malpractice insurance premiums. In the past, medical malpractice premiums have risen as much as 50 percent over the course of five years. To decrease this operating cost, doctors are often forced to affiliate closely with hospitals that can provide group malpractice insurance coverage.
An Insurance Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding professional liability insurance for doctors and other healthcare providers, and claims made under these policies, is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an insurance lawyer.