The polls are closed and the elections are finally over. No industry in Florida has been more affected by the recent elections than healthcare. The citizens of this state have chosen to pass Florida Amendments 7 and 8. Amendment 7 will allow greater scrutiny of doctors’ records and Amendment 8 means doctors with three or more judgments of medical malpractice against them will be stripped of their medical license.

As January 1st is the medical malpractice insurance renewal date for a great many doctors across Florida, it’s now more imperative than ever that Florida’s physicians understand the implications of these amendments. Choosing the “right” insurance company for your coverage has never been more important.

Premiums, of course, must always be weighed against protection, service, financial strength, and the long-term stability of the carrier. But doctors should now also place increased emphasis on the insurance company’s approach toward defense of claims.

The passage of Amendment 8 (the “Three Strike Amendment”) will increase the number of nuisance claims filed against doctors. The reason for this increase is because lawyers anticipate “easy money” from insurance settlements since they know many doctors will not be willing to fight a claim (even when the doctor did nothing wrong!) and thus risk getting a “strike” against them.

Sadly, many traditional commercial insurance carriers will be eager to settle claims rather than invest the necessary legal expenditures to prove a doctor’s innocence.

When weighing the pros and cons of an insurance company, look for a company that will not only fight nuisance claims, but will give you a voice on how your claim is handled. Ask about the defense team too. Are they experienced in medical liability? What’s their track record?

Florida doctors who are not already insured by a physician-owned insurance company, may want to consider this option. Generally, doctor-owned companies are more likely to mount an aggressive defense and usually give their policyholders greater control over how the claim is handled, including the decision to settle a claim or not. And, speaking of control, look carefully at Florida’s doctor-owned insurance entities. Is the company really owned by doctors? Do you have a voice (a vote) on the selection of board members and other critical matters?

Florida doctors need to fight back against Florida’s increasingly unfriendly environment for the practice of medicine. The answer is NOT to allow more and more nuisance claims. In fact, a proliferation of successful nuisance claims means higher insurance premiums for ALL Florida doctors. That’s because insurance companies base their premium rates on loss experience. An upward trend in losses (from claims) means an upward trend in premium rates is sure to follow.

Our personal reputations and our freedom to practice medicine are at stake. Despite what Florida voters have chosen, every doctor in this state has a constitutional right to a vigorous defense and, ultimately, a trial by jury.