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News on Personal Injury Law and Insurance-Related Topics

California Online Data Breach Shows Risk of Online Health Records.
By Jordan Robertson; August 23, 2011
Until recently, medical files belonging to nearly 300,000 Californians sat unsecured on the Internet for the entire world to see. There were insurance forms, Social Security numbers and doctors' notes. Among the files were summaries that spelled out, in painstaking detail, a trucker's crushed fingers, a maintenance worker's broken ribs and one man's bout with sexual dysfunction.
At a time of mounting computer hacking threats, the incident offers an alarming glimpse at privacy risks as the nation moves steadily into an era in which every American's sensitive medical information will be digitized.
Electronic records can lower costs, cut bureaucracy and ultimately save lives. The government is offering bonuses to early adopters and threatening penalties and cuts in payments to medical providers who refuse to change.
Southern California Medical-Legal Consultants, which represents doctors and hospitals seeking payment from patients receiving workers' compensation, put the records on a website that it believed only employees could use, owner Joel Hecht says.
The personal data was discovered by Aaron Titus, a researcher with Identity Finder who then alerted Hecht's firm and The Associated Press. He found it through Internet searches, a common tactic for finding private information posted on unsecured sites.
The data were "available to anyone in the world with half a brain and access to Google," Titus says.
Titus says Hecht's company failed to use two basic techniques that could have protected the data—requiring a password and instructing search engines not to index the pages. He called the breach "likely a case of felony stupidity."
Dozens of companies can be authorized to handle a single person's medical records. The further away from the health care provider the records get, the flimsier the enforcement mechanisms for ensuring the data are protected.
As instances of data mishandling become more commonplace, government officials may seek greater control over security policies of companies with access to health care records that aren't currently regulated.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press; Insurance Journal
To Save Money, Would YOU Agree to Let Your "Big Brother" Insurer Install a Device to Monitor When You Drive, How You Drive, Where You Drive, etc.? The insurance industry is touting such "spy" devices as a good deal for consumers, since they will reward safe driving habits. How long will it be until installation of such devices will be REQUIRED on all vehicles?
By Amy O'Connor; August 12, 2011
The driving habits of personal auto consumers are shaping the way carriers price coverage today. Those carriers providing usage-based insurance (UBI) options, including telematic systems or devices (installed on the vehicle) to monitor an insured's driving and mileage habits, are finding increased interest from consumers thanks to driver discounts for customers willing to participate.
UBI programs have become more popular recently as big auto insurance carriers like Progressive and Safeco launch new product options. Storing, analyzing and monitoring the data has also become a big business with companies like Hughes Telematics and Towers Watson providing insurers with access to the technology they need to track this information.
"I can't get through a week without having two or three more insurers asking to get more info about usage-based insurance in general or [our program] Drive Ability," says Robin Harbage, Towers Watson. "It is the hottest thing going on in auto insurance and everybody is realizing how it is changing insurance."
Harbage says telematics and UBI programs are definitely not going away. "The supply of telematics devices will become ubiquitous, making the launch of usage-based insurance easier and easier," he says.
Towers Watson launched DriveAbility in June, which provides analytical support for insurers that translates to an individual score for each vehicle.
Progressive's program, SnapShot, provides a device that is installed in the insured vehicle. It accesses the car's computer and tracks how much the insured drives, how they drive and what time of day they drive, and collects other information such as the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the odometer reading.
Copyright 2011, www.mynewmarkets.com

Study: Only 1 in 5 medical malpractice cases pay in settlement or verdict for injured claimants
By MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer–Aug 17, 2011
ATLANTA (AP)— Only 1 in 5 malpractice claims against doctors leads to a settlement or other payout, according to the most comprehensive study of these claims in two decades.
But while doctors and their insurers may be winning most of these challenges, that's still a lot of fighting. Each year about 1 in 14 doctors is the target of a claim, and most physicians and virtually every surgeon will face at least one in their careers, the study found.
Malpractice cases carry a significant emotional cost for doctors, said study co-author Amitabh Chandra, an economist and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government
They noted influential earlier research in New York state concluding that just a tiny fraction of the patients harmed by medical mistakes actually file claims.
Trial lawyers say cost is a barrier to bringing a claim to court. There are very high up-front costs for hiring expert witnesses and preparing a case. Doctors, hospitals and their insurers often have significant money and legal firepower. Some states also have caps on malpractice awards. So, usually, only very strong cases with high expected payouts are pursued.
Given the expense and other difficulties involved in winning, it's doubtful most claims are filed on a greedy whim, the researchers said. "A lawyer would have to be an idiot to take a frivolous case to court," Chandra said.
The research team turned to one of the nation's largest national malpractice insurers, analyzing data for about 41,000 physicians who bought coverage from 1991-2005. The researchers could only get the data by signing an agreement not to identify the insurer, so they wouldn't disclose the name of the company.
The study found:
Fewer than 2 percent of doctors each year were the subject of a successful claim, in which the insurer had to pay a settlement or court judgment.
—Some types of doctors were sued more than others. About 19 percent of neurosurgeons and heart surgeons were sued every year, making them the most targeted specialties. Pediatricians and psychiatrists were sued the least, with only about 3 percent of them facing a claim each year.
The study echoes earlier research on which specialists get sued most often, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group.
"The thing that's disappointing about their study is they don't focus on what can be done to prevent people from being injured," said Wolfe, who has pushed for more aggressive policing of doctors by state medical licensing boards.
Copyright 2011, MIKE STOBBE, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

ERs Move to Speed Care; Not Everyone Needs a Bed
Hospitals are tackling a dangerous and costly side effect of emergency-room overcrowding and long wait times: the growing number of patients who get fed up and leave without treatment.
To speed patients through the system, emergency rooms are adopting so-called lean-management principles pioneered by such companies as Toyota Motor Corp. to increase efficiency, cut costs and provide better service.
That means streamlining the traditional methods of triage and reserving beds for only the sickest patients, abandoning the longstanding rule that every patient gets a bed. It also means staffing the ER with less-costly providers such as nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, so more expensive ER doctors can focus on care and not on paperwork, test ordering and discharge plans.
Waiting times that can run into several hours have become a fact of life in the U.S. The number of emergency departments has dropped by nearly a third over the last two decades, while the number of patients seeking care has risen almost 40% over the same time span. And the number of primary-care doctors is declining, even as more uninsured patients show up at ERs that are required by law to provide care.
Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; THE INFORMED PATIENT
AIG Pays Back Another $2B on U.S. Treasury Debt
August 19, 2011
American International Group Inc. reported that it has reduced the remaining liquidation preference of preferred interests that the U.S. Department of the Treasury holds in AIA Aurora LLC to approximately $9.3 billion by applying the proceeds of approximately $2 billion from the sale of Nan Shan Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
AIG closed the sale of Nan Shan, its Taiwan-based life insurance company, to Ruen Chen Investment Holding Co. Ltd., a company owned 80 percent by the Ruentex Group and 20 percent by Pou Chen Corp., for $2.16 billion in cash.
"We continue to make progress in helping the Treasury and taxpayers recoup their investment in AIG," said AIG President and CEO Robert H. Benmosche. "We are pleased to have completed the sale of Nan Shan to Ruen Chen – a great result for American taxpayers, for AIG and for Nan Shan's policyholders, employees and agents."
Copyright 2011 Source: AIG