Gaps in Malpractice Insurance Pose Risk for Frontline Physicians, Nurses; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

May 28, 2020

Limited Coverage Working Outside Specialty or State

Many doctors and nurses working on the front lines of the coronavirus emergency face an increased malpractice risk without adequate liability coverage, according to Reuters.

While both the federal and state governments have made efforts to limit providers' underlying risk — Washington in the form of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and states like New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Connecticut in the form of temporary immunity — problems persist.

Nurses may be especially in jeopardy.

"The biggest problem with nurses is too many don't have professional liability insurance because they've been told by their employers that they don't need it, which is a mistake," said Edie Brous, RN, MPH, an attorney who defends nurses in malpractice cases. (Brous' nursing background is in emergency and critical care.) "It doesn't occur to them that the coverage they've got through their employer is very limited in what it covers."

Doctors are in a slightly better situation, but not by much.

Although as a rule they're expected to carry professional liability insurance —which typically covers them in defending, settling, or, if necessary, paying a malpractice claim — their premiums can vary widely by specialty and scope of plan. And during a public health emergency, when doctors may be practicing outside their designated specialty and sometimes across state lines, they face an added problem: Their regular plans may contain "exclusions for practicing in a clinic or facility not named in the policy" or in a riskier specialty than the one they're normally covered for.

Circumstances like these have prompted doctors and other representatives to push for nationwide immunity during the public health emergency.

But not everyone thinks that's a good idea.

In an open letter to President Trump and members of Congress, a group of attorneys, law professors, and activists, including Ralph Nader, has warned of "the pernicious effort by corporate lobbyists, insurance companies, and other special interest groups to put our fellow citizens at risk, and press for legislative immunity to escape liability for preventable harms causing injury or death."

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