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The Importance of Malpractice Insurance for Physician Assistants

Anthony Williams was PA to Dr. Carlton West, an orthopedic surgeon, in Michael Reese Medical Center. A patient, G.J., was operated upon and both Dr. West and Anthony failed to review G.J.’s medical history of deep vein thrombosis. They therefore failed to order anticoagulant therapy in time and G.J. ultimately died.

The jury of the Circuit Court in Cook County awarded $7 million in damages before Judge James Flannery. G.J.’s death was considered a wrongful death caused by medical malpractice and the doctor, his PA and the hospital had to pay the damages.

There are many malpractice suits filed against doctors and physician assistants every year. It is also not necessary that the physician assistant makes a mistake to become liable. Anything can go wrong in the healthcare industry and all it takes is one simple and inconsequential lawsuit to put an end to a physician assistant’s career – unless he or she is appropriately covered by medical professional liability insurance.

The physician assistant profession is one of the fastest growing professions in America. Moreover, many states are giving more duties and responsibilities to physician assistants because they’d like to keep the healthcare costs down. Given this scenario, it is absolutely certain that medical malpractice suits against physician assistants will continue to rise. The AAPA (American Academy of Physician Assistants) estimates that there will be 141,000 clinically practicing physician assistants in USA by 2020. There is no doubt that all practicing physician assistants are at an increased risk of being named in malpractice suits.

PAs are liable even when they are covered under their employer’s policies

Even though physician assistants are dependent healthcare practitioner, they are always at risk of individual liability. According to the law, every healthcare professional is responsible for his/her own actions.

Many PAs figure that they are safe if they are covered under their employer’s insurance program. But, that’s a wrong assumption. PAs are not fully covered under such employer insurance programs – they can still be held individually liable for their own negligence and may have to pay the full or part of a plaintiff’s settlement.

Types of Medical Malpractice Insurance Covers

Every hospital that employs healthcare professionals buys malpractice insurance that covers the hospital and its medical staff. However, this coverage is not sufficient. Physician assistants must buy their own malpractice insurance individually or under a group plan from a commercial insurance company. They must also carefully choose their liability limits.

There are two types of malpractice insurance – “occurrence” and “claims-made.” Occurrence insurance covers malpractice incidents that happen during the policy’s period. Even if the incident is reported much later, it will be admitted so long the incident happened when the policy was in force. However, this form of insurance has become rare because of the uncertainties surrounding malpractice suits. The “claims-made” type of insurance has taken over.

In the “claims-made” type of insurance, all malpractice incidents that happen in the policy period must be reported to the insurance company when the policy is active. If the policy is terminated and the incident goes unreported, the company will not provide any insurance cover. Physician assistants who want coverage for claims that are reported after policy termination must buy another policy, which is called Extended Reporting Endorsement. Physician assistants who change their insurance companies (to lower their premiums or for any other reason), can buy “prior acts” insurance to cover incidents that have occurred but are not reported.

Malpractice Insurance premiums for Physician Assistants

Physician assistants must choose a malpractice policy based on their duties and responsibilities, practice location and risk levels. A physician assistant’s duties and responsibilities are classified into three categories – Class A, B and C:

  • Class A physician assistants are those who assist in the diagnostic management of patients.
  • Class B physician assistants are those who assist in general surgeries, obstetrics (prenatal or postnatal care), trauma, emergency procedures (up to 10 hours per week), and anesthesiology.
  • Class C physician assistants are those who assist in orthopedic, obstetrics & gynecology, cardiovascular, neurology, thoracic, plastic surgeries, obstetrics (delivery room), trauma, emergency procedures (more than 10 hours per week) or cardiac catheterization.

 

Physician assistants must buy adequate additional insurance if they assist in potentially risky medical procedures like cardiovascular surgeries. Physician assistants who assist in routine and safer procedures like diagnostic management can choose a lower limit. If the number of malpractice suits is on the rise in the state, then the physician assistant must choose a higher limit.

Medical malpractice insurance protects a physician assistant’s career and finances. To eliminate even the slightest risk, every PA must buy adequate malpractice insurance even though they are covered under their employer’s policy.

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