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Palgrave Macmillan UK




Background. This study is the first to quantify physicians' malpractice insurance limits. It also examines the connection between policy size and payments on claims, including the frequency of settlement at the policy limits and the frequency of out-of-pocket payments.

Methods. Statistical analyses using data collected by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) covering all insured medical malpractice claims against physicians closed between 1990 and 2003 with payment of $25,000 or more (measured in 1988 dollars).

Results. Contrary to conventional wisdom, per-occurrence limits of $500,000 or less were as common as $1 million limits. Nominal policy size was stable over time, but real policy size declined. Settlements at limits were common, and above-limits payments were rare, suggesting policy limits cap recoveries. Physicians infrequently made out-of-pocket payments regardless of policy size, but the frequency declined as policy size increased. Results are presented separately for "perinatal physicians." Conclusions. The reported findings are contrary to common claims in policy debates and in the health policy literature. Policy limits appear to act as de facto caps on recoveries. Further research is needed to determine how the relationship between policy limits and recoveries affects malpractice claim outcomes and physician insuring practices.

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