Agreement Reached on Medical Malpractice

The latest special session of the Florida Legislature is over, with lawmakers back in their home districts. They've approved a bill that caps damages received by medical malpractice plaintiffs, but doctors and lawyers fear the bill won't reduce insurance rates or protect patients.

Sam Miller at the Florida Insurance Council may be one of the few non-lawmakers who is happy with the medical malpractice insurance reform bill.

“We hope it's going to help, we hope it's going to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates,” says Sam Miller.

Doctors fear the bill isn't tough enough to bring down malpractice insurance premiums that have doubled and tripled in recent years. The bill requires a rate freeze only through January. In the meantime, an independent consultant will be going through it to see whether has enough teeth to bring down rates. If the consultant says yes, insurance companies will then decide whether to do a roll-back.

If the verdict is no, insurance companies would still need state approval to raise rates any higher. Miller says they won't necessarily be the bad guys.

“When the rate freeze ends in January, that doesn't necessarily mean insurance rates will take a spike back up again. Miller: No, it doesn't mean they will take a spike back up. We're hopeful, in fact, they won't. The legislation is intended to reduce the rates.”

Gov. Jeb Bush believes the bill will bring rates down by creating a more honest system.

“My intuition is that there will be a decrease because there will be more clarity up front about whether or not a case is a malpractice case or a case of bad outcome,” says Gov. Jeb Bush.

But all sides acknowledge it will be months before doctors, lawyers or insurance companies know whether the bill will do any good. Gov. Jeb Bush signed the medical malpractice insurance reform bill into law late this afternoon. The bill takes effect September 15.