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Hungarian insurance companies raise malpractice premiums

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 04 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1456
  1. Carl Kovac
  1. Budapest

    In the wake of an increase in the number of malpractice lawsuits and in the size of their claims, Hungarian insurance companies are increasing the premiums on contracts, and one of the country's leading companies is removing its coverage from 92 hospitals.

    Hungarian law stipulates that all healthcare facilities must insure their doctors against malpractice claims. Fees range from a few hundred thousand to several million Hungarian forints (from about £1000 ($1600) to about £10 000 ($16 000) annually, and Hungary's 160 hospitals currently cover this from their own, often tight, budgets. Although the number of malpractice suits in Hungary and the amounts sought are relatively small by international standards, they have risen substantially in the past few years. There are now 300 cases a year, with doctors having to pay awards in excess of 5 million forints (£12 000; $20000).

    Ferenc Varga, chairman of the Hungarian Hospital Association, blames the increase in claims on “an increasingly Westernised practice in medicine and the fact that more and more law firms are specialising in malpractice cases.” The Hungarian Doctors' Chamber is lobbying the government to set an upper limit on the amount of damages that litigants can seek and is asking for clarification of the grounds for malpractice claims, which allows lawyers to sue for even the smallest medical mistake. The current system allows malpractice suits to be filed as either criminal or civil cases, further confusing the situation for doctors.

    Dr Péter Kupcsulik, president of the chamber, proposed that the amount for which patients can sue should be limited “as in the Netherlands, Great Britain, and, surprisingly, the United States.” The limit should be in line with Hungary's healthcare spending and doctors' salaries, he said. Doctors have said that they would welcome a system in which patients filed criminal charges, rather than seeking monetary damages for alleged malpractice. “Doctors who make mistakes should be punished, but not by paying excessive sums of money,” concluded Dr Kupcsulik.

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