Texas insurance officials recently took action to alleviate widespread concern about skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance rates and the shrinking number of private insurers.The Texas Department of Insurance released new policy guidelines for the Joint Underwriting Association-the state's insurer of last resort-as physicians in that state brace for a wave of renewal notices. The changes expand the types of policies offered and reduce some policy prices.

"The JUA is now a more realistic option for doctors struggling to find viable coverage in today's difficult medical malpractice insurance market," said Commissioner Jose Montemayor.

The JUA board expanded its coverage to include "claims-made" policies, which offer doctors coverage for all procedures performed before and after the policy takes effect, within limits. It previously offered only "occurrence" policies, which cover claims arising from events that happen while the policy is in force, regardless of when a claim is filed.

Private carriers in Texas have increased rates 30% to 60% from 2001 to 2002, according to Chicago-based Medical Liability

Monitor, an independent monthly publication.

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