Washington Medical Professional Liability Insurance Market Summary
Doctors in Washington have many good options for medical liability insurance. The major medical malpractice insurers are:
- The Doctors Company
- Physicians Insurance – A Mutual Company
- Coverys Group
These companies are considered the best medical malpractice insurers in Washington because of their A-rating from A.M. Best and their proven ability to provide strong legal and financial support for physicians. These carriers use proprietary methodologies to set medical malpractice insurance rates and there is no set standard rate across insurers for each specialty.
Medical Malpractice Insurance Requirements for Washington in 2020
The state of Washington does not require that doctors and physicians carry medical malpractice insurance. However, there is no cap on damages, and the state is legally required to collect information from doctors about medical malpractice insurance claims.
As it is with most hospitals and healthcare centers, many hospitals in Washington require that doctors have malpractice coverage in order to treat patients. Liability limits of $1 million per occurrence or claim and $3 million per annual aggregate are the standard policy amounts for medical malpractice insurance in Washington. High-risk specialties like Obstetrics/Gynecology or surgery tend to want policies with higher liability limits.
Medical Malpractice Insurance and COVID-19 in Washington
The first case of COVID-19 was a 35-year-old resident returning from Wuhan, China, and was confirmed on January 21, 2020, although unconfirmed cases of the virus were thought to exist as far back as December 2019. The first death in the state occurred at Evergreen Health Medical Center on February 29, with Governor Jay Inslee declaring a state of emergency as a result.
Early efforts to expand COVID-19 related healthcare services included a March 5 announcement by Governor Inslee that the state would cover COVID-19 testing costs for residents without health insurance. Additionally, the state issued an emergency order to health insurers requiring them to waive copays and deductibles for testing.
Actions to control the virus continued in March, with the government beginning to prepare a soccer field in Shoreline for an emergency field hospital to house 200 beds for COVID-19 patients and a statewide stay-at-home order announced on March 23 that lasted through May. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to create a military field hospital in the state which was expected to expand inpatient capacity for non-COVID-19 patients. In late June, the state started to require masking for all individuals in public spaces.
Despite the early actions of the government, the sharp increase in positive COVID-19 cases in November 2020 had state health officials worried about the capacity to care for patients, warning that “if the current coronavirus infection and hospitalization rates continue on their upward climb, Washington state hospitals could soon be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients”.
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 important for Washington doctors to protect themselves now with comprehensive medical malpractice insurance.
Telemedicine in Washington
The Washington State Hospital Association and the Washington State Telehealth Collaborative are active advocates for telemedicine in the state, working toward legislation to “promote access, sustainability, utilization and affordability of telehealth services”. In 2020, significant changes to telemedicine in the state were rolled out, including:
- Commercial, public employee, and school employee health plans and Medicaid managed care organizations are required to reimburse providers at the same rate as in-person visits
- Hospitals, health systems, and provider groups can negotiate different payment rates for telehealth services versus in-person visits
- Patients are not required to have an in-person visit with a referring provider before a telehealth visit
- Physicians must complete telemedicine training through the Telemedicine Collaborative, continuing education courses, professional boards, or hospitals/ other health care facilities
- The use of non-HIPAA compliant audio-video technologies is temporarily allowed for Medicaid patients
Health care providers can access more detailed information and guides on implementation of the 2020 legislation through the Washington State Hospital Association website.
Malpractice Insurance Rates for Washington Doctors
Medical malpractice insurance premium rates are slightly higher than in neighboring states and slightly more expensive than average when compared with rates across the country, but are still considered moderate due in part to a competitive carrier market and a relatively low number of payouts awarded.
State filed rates from 2016
Tort Reform in Washington
The first major attempt at passing tort reform measures in the state occurred in 1986 with the Washington Tort Reform Act. This legislation was created to counterbalance rising medical malpractice insurance premiums in the state. Notable components of the act included:
- placing a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages
- limiting the combined total of civil liability (individuals involved in the claim that are not healthcare professionals) for non-economic damages to $700,000
- limiting attorney fees to a fixed percentage of the compensation awarded in a litigation process
The Washington Tort Reform Act was ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court a short three years later in 1989.
In 2005, lawmakers made another significant attempt at tort reform by advocating to increase pre-filing requirements by including a certificate of merit from an “appropriate expert” and another call to cap damages, but these measures ultimately did not pass. However, the state successfully created reporting requirements to collect data on resolved medical malpractice claims to help support future policy decisions.
Washington’s Damage Caps on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Most states have placed a cap on the amount of compensation a person can be awarded in a medical malpractice case, but Washington is not one of them. Currently, there are no caps on economic or non-economic medical malpractice damages. Unlike most other states, Washington also does not allow courts to award punitive damages, but it does have a special law that places limits on attorneys’ fees. This law allows either party that is charged with the attorney fees to request a judicial decision regarding the reasonability of the amount billed.
Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Claims
The following guidelines outline the state’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims:
- A person in Washington has three years to file a medical malpractice claim
- If an injury is discovered after the three-year time period, a person has one year from the time of discovery to file a claim
- The statute of limitations for minor children (or their parents or legal guardians) does not begin until the child turns 18, and a claim must be filed within a year of their 18th birthday
- Wrongful death suits must be filed within three years of the death
- There is a statute of repose which states that all medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within eight years from the date of injury
Tail Insurance in Washington
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 Washington, 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 Washington for 2019
The total medical malpractice payout in Washington for 2019 was $49,494,500.
Washington’s per capita physician supply is currently comparable to the national per capita supply, but the state’s population is estimated to grow by 2.5 million people by 2040 with the number of patients over age 65 to increase from 15% to 22% of the population.
Physicians report that they enjoy practicing in Washington because of the relationship with renowned institutions like the University of Washington’s Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Additionally, many health care providers practicing in the state have either grown up or attended medical school in the area – the medical community feels small, allowing for easy collaboration. In addition, standards of care are high, evidenced in part by the high number of continuing education hours required to continue licensure in the state.
MEDPLI helps doctors from all specialties with their medical malpractice insurance. Whether you are a cardiologist in Seattle, an OB/GYN in Olympia, or a surgeon in Spokane, we can help you find medical malpractice insurance. To get coverage from an A-rated carrier, contact us by requesting a quote.