The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. is currently looking for insurance companies that would provide medical malpractice insurance to Commonwealth Health Center physicians. CHC doctors used to be under the protection of the Government Liability Act until it was ruled unconstitutional by a trial court.
At a CHCC board meeting last Sept. 13, legal counsel Nancy Gottfried told the board that all CNMI insurance companies were asked what it would take in order for them to offer medical malpractice to CHC’s physicians, “based on no substitution of parties, no damages cap, allow punitive damages and allow jury trial.”
The search for malpractice insurance for the CHC doctors stemmed from a malpractice lawsuit filed by couple Remedio Elameto and Pedro Pua against the CNMI government and doctors Gary Ramsey and Rajee Iyer.
In a statement, CHCC CEO Esther Muña said there is no actual medical malpractice insurance for physicians at the hospital. “The physicians that we have recruited usually ask that question when they come to work at CHCC because they know that they cannot buy medical insurance,” she said.
The usual explanation as to why no medical malpractice insurance is readily available in the CNMI is because the islands’ risk pool is “too small.”
“When you calculate what we have—doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners—then add the private providers, we only have some 50 [doctors] and that is a small number. That is why we don’t have enough risk pool for insurance companies to take in,” Muna said.
The Government Liability Act stands in place of medical insurance for CHC doctors in the CNMI. However, the Act’s constitutionality is currently being questioned and is now under litigation.
Muña is hopeful that CHCC will be accommodated by insurance companies. “Markets change and maybe there is really somebody out there who can accommodate us but, again, this will not be our first time to inquire about insurance.”
According to Gottfried, there are many challenges when operating a hospital in a remote island but they will be investigating the possibility of obtaining malpractice insurance for all doctors practicing here.
“We would like to hear from the insurance companies what conditions they would like to see in the request for proposals. In the event we don’t get responses, we will be following up by phone calls,” Gottfried said.