RESTON, Va. — Melanie Poirier has sought medical care through the Tepeyac Family Center for a decade. She likes that the Fairfax, Va., center’s pro-life perspective is consistent with Church teachings.
But it may be safer physically as well as morally.
That’s what a group of underwriters recently tried to find out. Reston, Va.-based K&B Underwriters wasn’t sure what to expect when they undertook a comprehensive study of pro-life physicians, but they suspected that those physicians who operate from a “culture of life” framework might have lower incidences of malpractice claims than physicians generally.
In February, with the assistance of the Catholic Medical Association and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, among others, K&B conducted a survey of more than 500 physicians across 100 different medical specialties and sub-specialties from 49 states.
What they found was astounding. According to a 2007 report from A.M. Best Co., for every dollar that an insurance company collects in medical malpractice premiums, it pays out 81 cents in claims. By comparison, the K&B study discovered that among culture of life physicians, the average payout is only 23 cents.
Poirier, a mother of five, said “I feel at home” at Tepeyac, where she visits pro-life physician Dr. John Bruchalski, the center’s founder.
Bruchalski said Poirier’s feeling and the study’s conclusions are not unrelated.
“There are two major reasons why the K&B study shows what it shows,” said Bruchalski. “Physicians who are pro-life take into account the life of the mother and the child. The whole ‘do no harm’ mantra applies to both patients. Secondly, physicians who do not prescribe hormonal contraceptives believe that shutting down a normal physiological process is not a healthy approach to medical care. Those two principles lead to a more trusting and lasting bond between physician and patient.”‘Monumental Crisis’
K&B Underwriters is a wholesale commercial insurance brokerage firm that provides products to the health-care industry, with a particular focus on eldercare and medical malpractice. K&B’s analysis could result in pro-life best practices being adopted by hospitals and health-care systems. It could also affect how pro-life physicians are insured, resulting in possibilities for affinity programs and lower malpractice premiums, possibly retaining physicians who are considering leaving the practice of OB/GYN because of the high rates of malpractice insurance.
Medical malpractice insurance rates have increased nearly threefold, and in some cases more, over the past two decades, with physicians paying anywhere between $35,000 and $100,000 annually for insurance.
In February 2003, representatives of the American Medical Association testified before Congress describing the escalating premiums of medical malpractice insurance and consequent decline in specialized physicians able and willing to pay such premiums as a “crisis of monumental proportions affecting the medical profession.”
In July 2004, after 20 years of delivering babies, Dr. Jeffery Lane of Connecticut dropped his obstetrics practice. According to Lane, it took 40 deliveries per year for him to pay for his insurance and he could no longer afford to deliver babies.
It was a similar incident three years ago that spurred Bryan Baird, founder and president of K&B, to undertake a study. The idea came when Tepeyac’s Bruchalski sent out a plea for help because his practice was being threatened by the rising cost of insurance.
Utilizing member organizations such as the Catholic Medical Association, K&B sought out practitioners to participate in an actuarial study to test their hypothesis.
“We served as a conduit,” said John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association. “We hope to facilitate better liability premiums for our members. If you can show that there is an association between a certain set of beliefs and lower claims, that’s better for physicians and patients who are receiving the kind of personal care that causes people not to sue.”Long-Term Effects
One question the survey can’t answer is whether the lower instances of malpractice claims are the result of better care or patients who are less likely to sue, or a combination of the two.
Baird thinks the latter.
“The first one naturally leads to the other,” said Baird. “We take it as a given that pro-life medicine is better care, so when you give better care you establish a level of trust with your patient.”
That’s certainly true of patient Patty Whelpley. She is a mother who could have sued her pro-life obstetrician, but chose not to. When her daughter Bridget was delivered eight years ago, her daughter’s arm was damaged during the delivery.
“There was a lot of pressure to sue,” said Whelpley. “Yet, the physician had done everything right and I trusted him. I felt that he shouldn’t be punished.”
“Medical malpractice premiums for physicians are calculated based on the statistical likelihood that physicians in general will have lawsuits filed against them,” said Baird. “Unfortunately, accidents happen to the best doctors. However, we believe, all things being equal, that physicians who intuitively respect human life from conception to natural death are more likely to end up with a positive outcome to a bad situation.”
One criticism that Bruchalski expects to hear is that the group surveyed was self-selected. Yet, explained Linda Shovlain, project coordinator for the study, that’s how the insurance industry operates.
“The insurance industry is constantly mining for segments of the population that are lower risk,” said Shovlain.
The next step involves having the actuarial house Tillinghast look at the data to assign a statistical probability and help establish rates.
“The actuarial house will put the credibility behind the survey so that we can take it to insurance companies to see if we can pool a group of doctors to start with,” said Baird.
That could encourage physicians, clinics and hospitals to employ best practices affiliated with a culture of life framework. Pro-life physicians, in partnership or groups with other physicians, could evangelize their peers on the basis of lower malpractice insurance rates.
“Being pro-life improves the bottom line,” said Baird. “If we can demonstrate that, we can be change agents in society.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.