By Mark Taylor

December 10, 2004

A black physician in Mississippi filed a breach-of-contract suit against the state's only medical malpractice carrier, Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi, Ridgeland, for allegedly unfairly refusing to renew his policy, which expires Jan. 1, and failing in its obligation to cover state physicians. Ron Myers, of Tchula, filed his complaint in Chancery Court of Holmes County, alleging that the board of the not-for-profit insurer "has made it clear that they do not want me to treat poor chronic-care patients" and has wrongly denied coverage to other black physicians practicing in poor, primarily black communities. Myers, a Baptist minister and missionary, said he has never had any malpractice claims filed against him.

Michael Houpt, chief executive officer at Medical Assurance, said race is never used as a basis for coverage decisions and was not in Myers' case. "We don't ask (race) on our applications because it isn't relevant," Houpt said. Houpt declined to discuss Myers' case in detail but said the insurer's problems with the physician began when he took over a pain clinic in Tupelo, Miss., 200 miles from Tchula. Medical Assurance, owned by its physician-members, was chartered by the state in 1976 during a medical malpractice insurance crisis. The company provides liability coverage to 75% of Mississippi's 3,300 physicians; other physicians obtain coverage through a state insurance pool, which Myers said has much higher rates.


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