Law Suit Crisis in NC? Not even close, malpractice refund check "in the mail"
March 11, 2008
As a personal injury lawyer in the state capitol, Raleigh, I hear a lot of "complaining" by physicians about "crazy lawsuits." I always tell them (many of whom are friends) that malpractice lawsuits in North Carolina are either declining or at worst, holding steady.
The main insurer for physicians, NC Medical Mutual, has just announced that they MADE so much money last year, they are issuing a refund to doctors. And guess what? This is NOT a result of tort reform. We have had no major laws pass in our state which resulted in "savings."
In fact, based upon actuarial studies, the reality appears to be that when lobbyists for the insurance companies were screaming for tort reform, what they were doing behind the scenes was RAISING premiums for physicains to create what I would call a "manufactured problem." The doctors' own insurance company was gouging them, and then asking them to donate money to "tort reform" causes, which of course, are insurance company lobby groups.
Looks like the physicians have finally reigned in their own insurance company by realizing that the "crisis", if there is one, is mostly in the minds (and wallets) of the insurance industry.
from the News and Observer
N.C. insurer to pay dividend
Medical Mutual will also pay off debt as drop in malpractice suits boosts profit
David Ranii, Staff Writer
The state's largest medical malpractice insurer says that fewer lawsuits filed against doctors will allow it to pay its policyholders a $3 million dividend -- its first dividend ever.
Raleigh-based Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina said it posted a 7.4 percent increase in profit last year as the number of lawsuits filed against its policyholders fell to 298 last year. That's down from 326 in 2006.
In addition to paying the first dividend since the company was founded in 1975, Medical Mutual also plans to erase its $10 million in debt this year. And, over the next four years, it plans to refund $12 million in capital supplied by its policyholders in 2003 as part of a plan to shore up the company's finances and stabilize its premium rates.
In recent years the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, whose members include the personal-injury attorneys who sue doctors for malpractice, has bashed Medical Mutual for charging rates that the lawyers' group labeled excessive.
Medical Mutual's CEO Dale Jenkins said the dividend and capital refund to shareholders demonstrates "we are a very good steward of the resources the [doctors] have provided to us. We recognize every day that it is their money."
Medical Mutual hasn't sought a rate increase from state regulators since 2005. The latest positive financial results will allow the insurer to hold rates steady again this year.
Medical Mutual's dividend will be in the form of a credit that physicians receive when they renew their policies, said Jenkins. The average credit will be about 5 percent of the annual premium for most of the 6,300 North Carolina physicians who are policyholders. Medical Mutual is a mutual insurance company that is owned by its policyholders.
"We're always glad to see a company ... able to give money back to its shareholders," said N.C. Insurance Department spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson.
Jenkins said the number of medical malpractice lawsuits has fallen nationwide. In addition, Medical Mutual has taken steps aimed at limiting lawsuits. The company has established stringent underwriting guidelines in order to avoid insuring doctors it considers high-risk, Jenkins said. "We do not take all comers," he said.
The company also sends out teams of nurses to assess doctors' practices and recommend ways to minimize risks, he said.
Profit last year totaled $26.1 million, up from $24.3 million in 2006, Medical Mutual reported. Assets increased by $44.9 million, to $416.2 million.