Concern about doctors’ liability costs

| 28 Nov 2022 | 04:47

Are you concerned about the wait time to see your doctor or the wait times at the hospital emergency department? That problem could become much worse if Gov. Kathy Hochul signs a bill into law that would make it harder to keep our doctors practicing in New York.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill S74A, would radically increase liability costs, threatening to force doctors out of the state and endangering access to life-saving care. If signed into law, this bill is likely to leave New Yorkers with fewer options – and higher costs – for the care they need.

Passed earlier this year, the purpose of this legislation is to significantly expand damages in wrongful death lawsuits, and would result in higher liability insurance premiums across the board. We agree with the intent of this bill: to modernize our antiquated wrongful death policies and ensure that family members of the victims of negligence receive just and fair compensation. However, as written this bill is too broad and will come with too many unintended consequences. Indeed, New York already has the costliest liability environment in the nation. Doctors pay more for insurance here than anywhere else, and if this bill is signed into law, according to a report from actuaries at Milliman, Inc, insurance premiums for medical professionals will increase by 40-45%.

This will translate to increased costs to patients and will put significant stress on the health care system. Higher costs will prove burdensome at best for medical professionals, and at worst will force some hospitals and doctors to close their doors for good. Such a loss of healthcare options will be detrimental to New Yorkers’ well-being, as patients are forced to travel farther to see a doctor, endure longer wait times, and shoulder higher costs for care.

The impact of a 45% increase in insurance costs will be particularly hard on highly specialized practices, including OB-GYNs, cardiac surgeons, and neurosurgeons. Doctors in these fields provide important, often life-saving care to patients – taking on a great deal of risk in doing so – and already pay disproportionately high insurance premiums. Saddling these physicians, who play a vital role in the medical system, with higher costs will discourage young doctors from pursuing these specialized fields in New York, and force some established physicians to move their practices to states with more affordable insurance costs. As a result, New Yorkers will be forced to search for new doctors and face longer wait times, longer travel, and conceivably lower quality of care.

Other costs of providing care in New York – rent, property taxes, utilities, medical supplies, and labor costs – are also already among the highest in the nation. It is already difficult to attract young physicians and nurses to New York State because of the high costs of providing healthcare and the high cost of living.

Going forward, it will be more difficult to provide high quality care to all New Yorkers if the number of practitioners declines. Furthermore, the impact will be greatest on the poor and uninsured, the same groups that the authors of this bill say they are trying to help. Furthermore, this law will not only affect medical malpractice. There will be increases in premiums for any type of liability insurance: auto, homeowners, business liability, etc. Therefore, it will directly affect anyone who owns a car, owns a house, or owns a business, and indirectly affect anyone who rents a home (higher rent), or is a customer at a store (higher prices), or receives deliveries at home or work (higher shipping costs), etc. In other words, Senate Bill S74A will affect most of us New Yorkers.

We and many other physicians have written to Governor Hochul asking her to veto S74A and send it back to the legislature to be re-written. The Medical Society of the State of New York, and organizations representing hospitals, nurses and other health care providers have also asked for a veto. It is in her hands now.

Dr. Mandes Kates and Dr. Mark Stamm

Mandes Kates, PhD, MD is a Board Certified Ophthalmologist. He currently serves as President of the Orange County Medical Society. Mark Stamm, MD is a Board Certified Ophthalmologist, and Past President of the Orange County Medical Society.