1,000 N.H. docs face malpractice policy rate hike

Hundreds of New Hampshire physicians and surgeons are going to see an increase in their medical malpractice insurance premiums for 2010.ProSelect Insurance Company, a member company of Boston-based ProMutual Group, said it would be raising premiums by 4 percent for some 1,000 Granite State physicians.According to an announcement by the company, the price hike came “in response to the rise in costs associated with managing medical malpractice claims and increased claims severity in New Hampshire.”The insurance company also said the economy, particularly the “investment environment,” also factored into its decision to raise premiums.”This is a challenging time for the health-care community, and protecting our policyholders over the long-term is our top priority,” said Gregg L. Hanson, chief operating officer for ProMutual. “In order to do this, our rates must be adequate to match anticipated costs while we continue to employ risk management services and claims defense to control costs.”ProSelect spokeswoman Nina Akerley said the escalating legal costs of defending claims in court also added to the decision. She said that the organization it works with to determine malpractice trends to make rate adjustments, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Practitioner Database, does not release data on claim numbers or amounts to the public.Palmer Jones, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said he wasn’t surprised by the increase.”There have been a number of cases awarded against them,” he said. “And the number of cases, and the complexity, is growing and will continue to be.”Jones said this latest increase is a sign of a larger problem – one he and others are calling a “non-competitive environment” for medical malpractice carriers in the state. It is an issue the New Hampshire Department of Insurance is currently reviewing, he said.According to Jones, there are only about five or six medical malpractice insurance carriers in New Hampshire, with the majority of the business done by three – ProSelect, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of Maine and the embattled New Hampshire Joint Underwriting Association.Some $110 million in surplus funds from the 900-subscriber JUA are currently being fought over in a heated legal dispute between state officials and JUA members. The state wants to use the surplus to help balance the budget, and the members say the funds are off limits. The case is currently awaiting a decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.”Physicians and hospitals are continuing to struggle with these increases; everyone is struggling,” said Jones.According to the society, there are about 5,000 licensed physicians in New Hampshire.ProMutual Group, one of the top 10 medical liability insurance providers in the country based on direct written premiums, has net admitted assets in excess of $2.6 billion as of Sept. 30.
Cindy Kibbe can be reached at ckibbe@nhbr.com