We keep hearing that a “hard” market is coming for malpractice insurance for Florida. What does this really mean and when should we be concerned?

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By Matt Gracey

The market cycle for malpractice insurance in Florida has fairly predictable cycles, with extreme fluctuations in pricing and insurers’ underwriting. For example, the late 1990s and early 2000s were similar to market cycle we are presently in, which is the last bit of a “soft”, doctor-friendly section. As insurers lowered their rates and underwriting rules to fend off competitors throughout the last half of the 1990s, the rates became too favorable for the claims conditions. Within just a few years, the insurers were losing money as the claims trends became increasingly unfavorable. The insurers started dramatically raising rates to stop the hemorrhaging of claims payments and they severely stiffened their underwriting requirements. Many just left the marketplace. Some 50+ insurers were offering coverage in 2000 and by 2003 the number was down to five or fewer that were really standing by the insured doctors. Many physician insureds in Florida were forced to go bare because the options for affordable malpractice coverage almost dried up. Doctors with claims issues were the most vulnerable, as their rates rose even faster or their coverage was non-renewed.

Unfortunately, we are headed for similar conditions in Florida’s malpractice market, I believe. The reasons for this are many, but they still boil down to the simple formula of the insurers not charging enough to cover the claims, which are rising both in severity and frequency, against their doctor insureds. I predict the claims trends will get much worse very quickly if the Florida Supreme Court overturns the 2003 cap on non-economic damages that was heavily influential in bringing us out of the last malpractice-insurance crisis of the early 2000s. Many experts are predicting the overturn of the caps will take place in the summer of 2012. With 60+ insurers, at last count, now offering coverage to Florida doctors, you should choose wisely from which of those you want to purchase coverage since the market conditions will very likely become much worse in the next 18 to 24 months as we careen into a “hard” market.