Thursday, June 15, 2006

You got punk'd, doc.

Suprise! Medical malpractice "reform" didn't work. Well, not for anyone but malpractice insurers, who not only avoided having to compensate those injured by medical malpractice, but also raised rates on their clients:

Despite promises that rising medical malpractice insurance rates would be suppressed under new state laws, many of Georgia's insurers have hiked their premiums since the sweeping reforms took effect last year, according to an Associated Press analysis of state insurance records.

Six of the state's top insurers of doctors and dentists have increased their liability rates _ in some cases, by more than a third _ since new restrictions on malpractice cases became law in Feburary 2005, according to state Department of Insurance records obtained by the AP through an open records request.

The reforms passed by the Georgia Legislature last year included a $350,000 limit on jury awards for malpractice victims' pain and suffering, tougher standards for expert witnesses in malpractice trials, and new incentives for patients to settle out of court.

Doctors and hospitals contended the measures, dubbed "civil justice reform," would curb malpractice insurance rates and help lure more doctors to Georgia. Business lobbies, too, threw their weight behind the legislation because it encourages speedy out-of-court settlements and penalizes parties who make frivolous claims.

But trial lawyers and patient advocacy groups argued that limiting damage awards puts an arbitrary price on a victim's life, and that the state's medical insurers have fostered a false crisis by driving up premiums in a market with little competition.

"Our worst fears have come true," said Allie Wall, the director of consumer group Georgia Watch, which vigorously opposed the new laws. "More than a year has gone by, yet Georgia doctors have not saved a penny on their insurance, as promised, and the insurance companies are still raking in record profits."

Read further to see how shameless these companies are - they wanted to raise rates by two-thirds, but they settled for one-third. With whom did they settle? Our Republican Insurance Commissioner, John Oxendine. Says Oxendine:

"We've got to get these people in here. I can afford to tell someone 'no' on homeowners and car insurance hikes," Oxendine said. "I don't have as much flexibility when I don't have as much competition" in the malpractice insurance market.

Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to me, either. But unlike Oxendine, I don't take campaign contributions from the insurance industry, and I suspect that makes a difference. (Perhaps we should elect an Insurance Commissioner who doesn't take money from the insurance industry, eh?)

Otherwise, Eric Johnson provides the money quote:

"Tort reform is working," said Senate Pro Tem Eric Johnson, the chamber's leader.

Yes, Eric, it is working - for insurance companies. Much like the Republican Party.