Physicians' insuring practices influence their incentives to take care when treating patients, their risk of making out-of-pocket payments in malpractice cases, and the adequacy of compensation available to injured patients. Yet these practices and their effects have rarely been studied. Using Texas Department of Insurance data on 9,525 paid malpractice claims against physicians that closed in 1990-2003, we provide the first systematic evidence on levels of coverage purchased by physicians with paid liability claims and how those levels affect out-of-pocket payments and patient compensation. We find that these physicians carried much less insurance than is conventionally believed, that their real primary limits declined steadily over time, that policy limits often act as effective caps on recovery, and that personal contributions by physicians to close claims were rare. Our findings call into question a number of common assumptions about the relationship between physicians' insuring practices and the medical malpractice liability system.
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