insurancedept.jpgThere are worries that a proposed $50,000 surcharge on all MD's in the state could do irreparable harm to New York's health care community. The state's medical malpractice liability fund is underfunded, and state insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo is looking for ideas.

Doctors unable to obtain liability insurance from commercial carriers are required to get insurance from a pool for high-risk doctors called the Medical Malpractice Insurance Plan, which charges doctors at least 290% the going rate of insurance for their profession. The pool is in the red right now, however, and it falls upon commercial carriers to cover any deficits. From the Sun:

Mr. Dinallo said in an interview the fee might be required by law to guarantee the solvency of the state's medical malpractice insurers. But he conceded, "We've built up such a mess" that the surcharge would be difficult to impose, and other solutions will be sought.

Any fee would follow a 14% increase in malpractice insurance rates that went into effect this summer. The rates, set by the Insurance Department, vary by county and specialty. Brain surgeons in Brooklyn currently pay $267,000 annually for malpractice insurance, while general surgeons in Manhattan pay $123,120 and obstetricians in Queens pay $180,490.

Lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Spitzer decrying the idea of a surcharge, writing that it could drive good doctors out of business or out of state. They're also upset that the burden would be spread amongst all doctors, versus the ones responsible for high malpractice costs. Newsday reports that .5% of the state's doctors are responsible for 7% of all malpractice payouts by insurers.

A case in point is Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, an anesthesiologist who was unable to obtain insurance from a commercial carrier. He is one of the 475 doctors in the high risk pool and, in November, 630 of his patients were contacted by the Nassau County health department, advising them to get tested for various strains of hepatitis and HIV. Dr. Finkelstein was found to be reusing syringes and multiple dose medicine vials, causing at least some of his patients to contract hepatitis C.