At a time when New York physicians face a combustible mix of significant Medicare sequestration cuts, the requirement to implement costly mandatory electronic medical record and ICD-10 reporting systems, and deal with new federal health care reforms, New York State must do all in its power to bring down the extraordinary cost of medical liability insurance, urged physicians at the Medical Society of the State of New York’s Annual House of Delegates meeting this past weekend.

“The public needs to be aware that expanding the availability of health insurance coverage to New Yorkers will not enhance timely quality care for patients unless steps are taken to assure that physicians can remain in practice to provide this care” stated Dr. Sam Unterricht, a Brooklyn ophthalmologist who became MSSNY’s new President at this meeting. “To do this, we need to reduce our egregious overhead costs, reduce unnecessary and time-consuming administrative burdens and receive fair payment from insurers for the care we provide to our patients.”

New York physicians, particularly those who practice in the NYC-metropolitan region, pay medical liability premiums that are far more than most of their colleagues across the country. For example, for just a single year of coverage, the cost of medical liability coverage for the 2012-13 policy year was:

  • $315,524 for a neurosurgeon in Nassau and Suffolk counties;
  • $183,247 for an Ob-GYN in Bronx and Richmond counties;
  • $111,989 for a general surgeon in Kings and Queens counties; and
  • $109,019 for an vascular surgeon or cardiac surgeon in Bronx and Richmond counties

There is no question why these costs are so extraordinary. Medical liability payments in New York State are far out of proportion to the rest of country. For example, in 2011, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, New York State had by far and away the highest number of paid medical liability claims in the country (1,379), more than 50% greater than the next highest state, California (889), and nearly 80% greater than the state with the third highest number, Pennsylvania (767). Kaiser statistics also showed that New York State had the highest cumulative medical liability payouts in 2011 ($627,067,500), more than two times greater than the states with the next highest amounts, Pennsylvania ($299,671,500), and more than three times greater than Florida ($188,324,250), California $186,235,900) and Illinois ($183,968,050).

At the same time, physicians face ongoing efforts by public and private payors to reduce payments for care, including recent implementation of significant Medicare sequestration cuts. If unaddressed, the squeeze between high liability costs and inadequate payment is unsustainable to our health care system.

Several bills have been introduced in the New York State Legislature to address these concerns. One such bill (A.3335, Schimminger) would enact a number of reforms to reduce these costs, including placing reasonable limits on non-economic damages, as over 30 other states have enacted. Another bill (S.2531, Hannon) would assure that only physicians with appropriate specialty training can serve as expert witnesses in medical liability trials. At the same time the State Legislature needs to reject an array of well-meaning, but destructive legislation that would radically expand lawsuits and recoveries against physicians and hospitals, and further drive physicians away from practicing in New York.

“New York’s health care system already faces severe financial strains.” stated Dr. Unterricht “The implementation of health care reform will only further test its ability to meet patient demand. Therefore, the State Legislature must take action to assure that physicians remain available to deliver the care New Yorkers are expecting to receive, and reject bills that would place the availability of this care in doubt.”

Founded in 1807, the Medical Society of the State of New York is the state’s principal non-profit professional organization for physicians, residents and medical students of all specialties. Its mission is to represent the interests of patients and physicians to assure quality healthcare services for all.