2020 Arizona Doctors Buying Guide to Medical Malpractice Insurance

Arizona Medical Professional Liability Insurance Market Summary

The Arizona malpractice insurance market is dominated by one carrier, MICA (Mutual Insurance Co of Arizona), but other great options exist. These highly rated insurers in the state include:

  • MedPro Group
  • The Doctors Company
  • Aspen American Insurance Company
  • ProAssurance (announced it would acquire NORCAL Group in 2020)

These insurance providers are admitted in Arizona, guaranteeing that Arizona Department of Insurance has approved their filings. Furthermore, admitted carriers participate in the Arizona Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Fund, which would provide up to $300,000 for covered claims in the event the issuing carrier becomes insolvent. These companies are also considered the best insurers in Arizona because of their A-rating from A.M. Best and their proven ability to provide strong legal and financial support for physicians. They use proprietary methodologies to set rates and there is no set standard rate across insurers for each specialty.

Liability insurance costs more on average for Arizonians than in neighboring states, but according to the National Practitioner Databank, on average the state has fewer medical malpractice claims per 100 physicians and spends less per capita on medical malpractice payouts.

Medical Malpractice Insurance Requirements for Arizona in 2020

There is no legal requirement in the state of Arizona for physicians to carry medical malpractice insurance. Regardless of state law, many Arizona hospitals and health centers require doctors to carry medical malpractice insurance if they want admitting privileges. Liability limits of $1 million per occurrence or claim and $3 million per annual aggregate are the standard policy amounts. If you practice a high-risk specialty, such as Obstetrics/Gynecology or surgery, you will likely want a policy with higher liability limits.

Medical Malpractice Insurance and COVID-19 in Arizona

Arizona announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on January 26, 2020, with health officials announcing the first death in the state on March 20.

As the virus surged in the months to follow, Governor Doug Ducey tried to reserve medical resources in the state by halting all elective surgeries, among other measures. Facing criticism from lawmakers and constituents who felt he was not responding quickly enough to the crisis, Governor Ducey also issued a statewide stay at home order to take effect on April 1, prohibiting residents from leaving their houses except for essentials. The state began to reopen just a month later, with the entire stay-at-home order lifted on May 15.

By early July, Arizona healthcare workers were feeling the pressure of the rise in cases, with over 90% of ICU hospital beds unavailable statewide. The Arizona Department of Health Services responded by bringing in close to 600 nurses to help.

Even with a $150 million grant from the CDC to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, and a suspended plan to reopen more than 330 ICU beds at St Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix, as of October 8, 2020, Arizona had the eighth-highest number of confirmed cases in the United States, and the ninth-highest number of confirmed cases per capita.

COVID-19 cases are predicted to increase significantly across the country until a vaccine is made available to the public. In these unprecedented times, it’s imperative that Arizona physicians act now to protect themselves with comprehensive medical malpractice insurance.

Telemedicine in Arizona

The state was an early leader in telehealth services starting with the creation of the Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) at the University of Arizona in 1996. Since then, the ATP has met quarterly with the Arizona Telemedicine Council in Phoenix to present telemedicine activities and advances throughout the state. Over the past 20 years, ATP staff have published numerous books and papers and have presented at hundreds of state and national meetings. Additionally, ATP has been offering its Arizona Telemedicine Training Program three times per year for the last 17 years, and the ATP’s national Telemedicine & Telehealth Service Provider Directory boasts 10 providers in Arizona alone.

Because of the robust support that ATP has been able to provide, multiple medical specialty services are offered via telemedicine to the state’s rural areas, and healthcare systems across the state have been able to benefit from the state’s early focus on telehealth as an emerging technology. For example, Valleywise Health, the county health system of Phoenix, reported that virtual care makes up half of their ambulatory visits, providers report that the system is easy to use, some clinics have been able to transition fully to virtual services, and as of October 2020 they have completed 80,000 telehealth visits.

Moving forward, telemedicine visits are expected to become routine for minor health issues, monitoring, and follow ups. Since doctors have the same liability with telemedicine visits as they do with face to face visits, it is recommended that doctors carry insurance that specifically covers telemedicine.

Malpractice Insurance Rates for Arizona Doctors

Medical malpractice rates in Arizona trend slightly higher than many other states in the region.

State filed rates from 2016

Tort Reform in Arizona

For the most part, tort reform has not been successful in Arizona, and the state lacks legislation that many other states have in place. For example, the state does not permit periodic repayment of medical malpractice damages, nor does it have a centralized patient fund for liability claims. Plaintiffs are not required to submit potential medical malpractice claims to a screening panel, and there are no caps on economic or non-economic damages. Notably, Arizona does follow a “pure comparative negligence” rule, meaning that if a claimant is found to be part negligent in respect to their injury, damages are only rewarded in proportion to that fault. Legislative attempts at major reform were overturned in 1993 and then rejected again in 2003, with reform groups recognizing that future tort reform in the state is destined to change only on an incremental, case-by-case basis.

Arizona’s Damage Caps on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Arizona is one of few remaining states that does not place a cap or any statutory limits on the amount of recoverable damages in a medical malpractice suit. In fact, as of 2016, the Arizona Constitution prohibits the enactment of any law limiting the damages awarded for claims a person can recover for death or personal injury. Although attempts have been made in the past to cap damages, efforts have not been successful.

Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Claims

The following guidelines outline the state’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims:

  • A person in Arizona has two years to file a medical malpractice claim
  • If an injury is not immediately known, the statute of limitations does not begin until the date when the individual knew or should have known about their injury
  • The statute of limitations for minor children (or their parents or legal guardians) does not begin until the child turns 18
  • Exceptions to the two-year deadline can be made in some cases, like if the health care provider left the state after the malpractice occurred, or if the patient was mentally ill or disabled

Tail Insurance in Arizona

If you are a physician with a claims-made policy practicing in Arizona and you DON’T have Prior Acts insurance (also known as Nose Coverage), having a tail insurance policy will make sure you’re protected from malpractice claims if you change jobs. Tail insurance covers the time between your retroactive date with your former employer, and the last day you are covered by that policy. The dates typically line up with your first day on the job and your last day seeing patients at that job. Before you start with your new employer, the new employer will often want to confirm you have tail coverage from your prior job. To get the best rates on tail insurance in Arizona, contact a broker before you notify your employer of your resignation.

When and why is tail insurance necessary?

When a doctor leaves an employer, their insurance coverage with that employer ends on the last day of employment. Since most malpractice insurance policies are underwritten on a claims-made basis, you will be exposed to a lawsuit if someone files a claim against you after you leave your employer, without tail coverage. Tail insurance covers you from your retroactive date up to the last day the policy is in effect – with the ability to report claims years after the last day. Read more about tail malpractice insurance.

Medical Malpractice Insurance Outcomes in Arizona for 2019

TOTAL PAYOUT

The total medical malpractice payout in Arizona for 2019 was $63,137,750.


Closing Remarks

In response to the severe shortage of physicians in rural areas and in underserved communities, in 2020 the University of Arizona began offering to cover full tuition costs at the Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix for medical students who “commit to practicing a primary care specialty in one of the state’s underserved areas”, which extends to all fifteen counties in the state. The program is funded by the state legislature and is supported by Governor Doug Ducey. Experts estimate that 1,900 more primary care physicians will be needed in the state by 2030.

In addition to the availability of jobs in the state, physicians practicing in Arizona also report enjoying the warm, beautiful weather, a low cost of living, good work life balance, and great schools.

Whether you are a pediatrician in Phoenix, a surgeon in Scottsdale, or an anesthesiologist in Tucson, we can help you find the best medical malpractice insurance for your specialty. Contact us to receive a quote from one of Arizona’s many A.M. Best A-rated carriers.

MEDPLI offers tail insurance, group coverage, private practice malpractice coverage, and more. See our Products & Services page to find out how we can help you.

About Max Schloemann

Max Schloemann is a medical malpractice insurance broker, focused on helping physicians secure Medical Professional Liability coverage. He helps Doctors and Surgeons, as well as Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, and healthcare entrepreneurs launch new medical practices across the country. Max graduated Magna cum Laude from Southern Illinois University College of Business and was named the Outstanding Management Senior. Max’s career in medical malpractice insurance began in 2008 with an industry-leading firm. Max founded MEDPLI in 2017 to help private practice physicians and doctors changing jobs navigate the complexities of medical malpractice insurance in the new era of healthcare. Max’s wife, Kristen, a Physician Assistant, and their 4 kids (plus 1 dog) enjoy hiking, golf, and cooking.

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