What you absolutely need to know about tail coverage


Times you don’t need to pay for tail coverage

Even if you’re responsible for the tail coverage, your insurance arrangement may be such that you don’t have to pay for it, says Michelle Perron, a malpractice insurance broker in North Hampton, N.H.

For example, if the carrier at your new job is the same as the one at your old job, your coverage would continue with no break, and you would not need a tail, she says. Even if you move to another state, your old carrier might also sell policies there, and you would then likely have seamless coverage, Ms. Perron says. This would be handy if you could choose your new carrier.

Even when you change carriers, Ms. Perron says, the new one might agree to pick up the old carrier’s coverage in return for getting your business, assuming you are an independent physician buying your own coverage. The new carrier would issue prior acts coverage, also known as nose coverage.

Older doctors going into retirement also have a potential tail coverage problem, but their tail coverage premium is often waived, Ms. Perron says. The need for a tail has to do with claims arising post retirement, after your coverage has ended. Typically, if you have been with the carrier for at least 5 years and you are age 55 years or older, your carrier will waive the tail coverage premium, she says.

However, if the retired doctor starts practicing again, even part time, the carrier may want to take back the free tail, she says. Some retired doctors get around this by buying a lower-priced tail from another company, but the former carrier may still want its money back, Ms. Perron says.

Can you just go without tail coverage?

What happens if physicians with a tail commitment choose to wing it and not pay for the tail? If a claim was never made against them, they may believe that the expense is unnecessary. The situation, however, is not so simple.

Some states require having tail coverage. Malpractice coverage is required in seven states, and at least some of those states explicitly extend this requirement to tails. They are Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Eleven more states tie malpractice coverage, perhaps including tails, to some benefit for the doctor, such as tort reform. These states include Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Many hospitals require tail coverage for privileges, and some insurers do as well. In addition, Ms. Perron says a missing tail reduces your prospects when looking for a job. “For the employer, having to pay coverage for a new hire will cost more than starting fresh with someone else,” she said.

Still, it’s important to remember the risk of being sued. “If you don’t buy the tail coverage, you are at risk for a lawsuit for many years to come,” Mr. Teitelbaum said.

Doctors should consider their potential lifetime risk, not just their current risk. Although only 8% of doctors younger than age 40 have been sued for malpractice, that figure climbs to almost half by the time doctors reach age 55.

The risks are higher in some specialties. About 63% of general surgeons and ob.gyns. have been sued.

Many of these claims are without merit, and doctors pay only the legal expenses of defending the case. Some doctors may think they could risk frivolous suits and cover legal expenses out of pocket. An American Medical Association survey showed that 68% of closed claims against doctors were dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn. It said these claims cost an average of more than $30,000 to defend.

However, Mr. Teitelbaum puts the defense costs for so-called frivolous suits much higher than the AMA, at $250,000 or more. “Even if you’re sure you won’t have to pay a claim, you still have to defend yourself against frivolous suits,” he said. “You won’t recover those expenses.”


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