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"Bare' in plain sight

The Florida Legislature would seriously limit patients' rights if it approves a bill making it easier for doctors who are uninsured to keep that information to themselves.

State law says doctors may drop medical malpractice insurance under certain conditions if they are able to maintain an account with money for malpractice settlements. Some doctors choose this method, which amounts to self-insurance. Other doctors drop malpractice insurance because they have been sued so many times they cannot afford it. In either case, patients have the right to know when a doctor is uninsured or "going bare," as the practice is called.

Current law contains requirements for patient notification. It says doctors must display a sign prominently in the reception area notifying patients they are uninsured. Doctors also must give patients a written copy of the notice. Patients are required to sign the notice, and a copy is kept in their files.

Lawmakers, led by a Senate member who also is a doctor, are weakening those notification requirements. The law is being amended to say uninsured doctors must post a notice or deliver the written notice to patients. Worse, patients no longer would be required to sign the notice, which acknowledges they understand a doctor is not insured for malpractice.

It makes sense that some doctors prefer to insure themselves rather than pay sky-high premiums. There is a caution here, though. What happens when the doctor maintains the required account but is sued multiple times?

Legislators and medical lobbyists are conveying their message loud and clear: The possibility that patients can be maltreated and not know their doctors are uninsured is acceptable medical practice. It is not. Patients have a right to know.

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