The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the number of physician assistants will grow 39% by 2018, and CNN Money/ reports that the number of nurse practitioners will increase by 23% percent by 2016. As these clinical roles come to the forefront of primary care, malpractice claims against physician extenders have risen in both frequency and severity, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the CNA HealthPro Nurse Practitioner Claims Analysis. 

Although some clinicians may think that their employer-provided professional liability insurance coverage is sufficient, a personal professional-liability policy can offer protection in several
 ways that an employer plan might not. You may be covered under an employer’s medical malpractice policy as a dependent practitioner, but you’re still at personal risk for negligence attributed to you in a lawsuit and may be held responsible for all or part of a plaintiff’s award/settlement. 

If you’re concerned that you might have gaps in your professional-liability coverage, exploring the possibility of obtaining this personal policy could be worthwhile. 

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Many hospitals and medical facilities have a large “self-insured deductible” in their insurance programs. This means that the facility is responsible for paying the first claims dollars of a loss — often $1 million or more. An insurance policy that is structured this way gives a facility extra incentive to settle a claim against it at a lower cost regardless of an employee’s individual culpability or the impact that losses might have on his or her career.

Also keep in mind that when third-party administrators are handling claims involving multiple health-care providers, these insurers might not communicate with you directly, as they do with your employer. The lack of direct contact could leave you in the dark as to how the case is progressing and unsure of how or whether your interests are being represented. A personal policy enables you to hire your own attorney if needed.

Clinicians also should be aware that employer coverage rarely includes defense of a license complaint — disciplinary actions that go before state licensing boards. Another factor to consider is that an employer policy may not be portable. Portability would allow coverage to be continued at the same level when you change employers, or if you work in multiple locations (which increases the extent to which you are at risk), or if a claim is made after you have left a particular job. 

With a personal professional-liability policy, you can ensure that your defense costs are covered in a license complaint; that you have portable coverage that follows you with a consistent level and format; and that you have direct access to risk-management tools that can help prevent claims before they happen. 

Some clinicians harbor concerns that they are more likely to be named in a suit if they carry their own insurance. However, plaintiffs’ attorneys do not know the provider’s insurance status when they name him or her in a suit; that information does not come to light until the discovery phase of the case. An insurance company cannot release information about a provider’s insurance status without his or her written permission.

Although policy costs will vary, the average annual premium for a full-time physician assistant, for example, is approximately $3,000.

David Springer is president of NIP Programs, a division of NIP Group, Woodbridge, NJ, which designs and manages specialty insurance programs.