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Continued: High-risk health providers stay in business thanks to state insurance

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 6, 2013 - 6:16 PM

After a Commerce Department investigation found what Johnson Piper called “significant financial and operational weaknesses,” the department imposed “administrative supervision” over the group from December 2011 to the end of 2012. Under state law, Commerce could take the action after it found the MJUA’s condition “renders the continuance of its business hazardous to the public or to its insureds.”

State law allows the Commerce Department to release information about the administrative supervision if it’s in the public’s best interest. But the department won’t provide any other details.

“This confidentiality clause assures that consumers are protected while making sure that the insurance marketplace isn’t unnecessarily disrupted,” Johnson Piper said.

The agency’s records were completely open to the public in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996, 2004 and again in January, the state agency that resolves disputes about access to public data determined that the MJUA is subject to the state’s open records law.

The MJUA has argued its records shouldn’t be public because it operates like a private business. In February, the MJUA filed suit against the Star Tribune to fight a records request seeking information about ­policyholders.

Malpractice lawyer Brandon Thompson thinks the names of MJUA policyholders should be public. “If my kid’s bus driver was in so many accidents that he couldn’t get private coverage, I’d want to know that.”

Malpractice and discipline

Being insured by the MJUA “is not a place you want to be,” said Mark Kulda, vice president of public affairs for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota.

“It usually means you’ve gotten denied, and you get denied because you have a bad record or have large claims against you,” Kulda said.

But he also said that being covered by the MJUA doesn’t necessarily mean doctors are a higher risk to patients.

“You have to think about why a doctor gets an award against them. … Is it because a nonmedical person in the liability system had to make a decision on what was the right call?”

Some MJUA-covered physicians have not only faced lawsuits, but also disciplinary and corrective action by the state medical board, according to court and Board of Medical Practice records.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Stefan Konasiewicz, who previously practiced in Duluth, was covered by the MJUA from 2005 until at least 2008 after he had multiple malpractice suits filed against him.

Following an allegation of patient harm by a county medical examiner, Konasiewicz was sanctioned by the Board of Medical Practice in September 2010. The board reported that his treatment led to the death of one patient, and left another patient paralyzed from the neck down. Konasiewicz is now practicing in Texas and was disciplined by that state’s medical board in February for failure to “maintain adequate medical records” and “safeguard against potential complications.”

Konasiewicz did not respond to requests for comment.

Another physician, Dr. James P. Wasemiller, was covered by the MJUA from 1997 to 2000, according to court records. Court and medical board records show that Wasemiller failed three oral medical exams in the late 1970s, was disciplined by the North Dakota and Minnesota medical boards in 1992 for failing to maintain adequate medical records for patient prescriptions and had his practice privileges restricted at a Minnesota hospital from 1990 to 1995. At one point, those privileges were restricted for “improper prescription of pain medications and improper record keeping,” according to a court file.

He lost his coverage when he couldn’t afford the MJUA’s premiums, according to lawsuits. In 2011, both the North Dakota and Minnesota medical boards suspended his license, noting that he frequently prescribed narcotics but failed to monitor those prescriptions.

He also took a clinical skills assessment that showed that he “failed to demonstrate sufficient medical knowledge in the field of general practice.”

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