The envelope comes about every year or so. It always has the words “DO NOT BEND” in white letters against a blue background. This time, up at the top, it also said (again the white letters against a blue background), “OFFICIAL LETTER OF NOTIFICATION.”
Maybe the first time it scared me a little, but this time, the third time, it didn’t. It’s my annual warning from the Healthcare Providers Service Organization (or HPSO) saying that I’d better get malpractice insurance. (By the way, be careful when you get online and look for their website; otherwise you could wind up at the site of the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon).
The first line in this “official letter of notification” relaxes me. It says, “Attention Counseling Professional.”
Whew! I am not a counseling professional. I am surely a counseling patient, but I am not a counseling professional. But wait a minute, maybe I should look at this mailing carefully to see if I have some reason to sue my therapist!
The form letter goes on to say, “Today, more and more patients believe that when things go wrong, they have a right to sue.” Well, I wouldn’t say things have really gone wrong in my therapy. My therapist has never suggested something to me that, when I tried it, almost destroyed my life. On the other hand, she hasn’t suggested anything that has made a dramatic improvement in my life either. In fact, come to think of it, she rarely suggests anything. And suddenly I understand why. She is afraid of getting sued.
And if she weren’t, she certainly would be once she received this mailing. Does she realize that ours has become a suit-crazed nation? Not only do patients sue their therapists and therapists sue their patients, but children sue parents, parents sue children, and, if they could, dogs would sue their owners.
However, it is when people are providing some kind of healthcare service that the possibility of getting sued increases dramatically. We know this is true for doctors, who pay tremendous premiums for malpractice insurance, but HPSO would have us believe that it is also true for a variety of providers whose procedures are typically much less invasive than those of medicine and surgery. It’s not just therapists and counselors who must be concerned; it’s also those doing aesthetic procedures.
Okay, I can understand why someone doing body piercing, one of the practices listed on HPSO’s website would want to have coverage, but what about someone giving you a bubble bath, which is another of the 100 or so procedures listed? I know, in theory you could drown in a bathtub full of bubbles, but, come on, what are the chances? I’ll admit that before I’ve had even minor surgeries I have been very nervous; but if I were going to get a bubble bath, I don’t think I’d miss a minute of sleep the night before.
Actually, that list contains many procedures I have never heard of, such as “Lomi-lomi,” “Rassoul,” “Caldarium,” and the beautiful sounding “Golden Spoons.” Sure, those sound innocent enough, but some on the list do sound downright dangerous, and if I were practicing one or more of them, I’d be sure to get insurance coverage. They include, along with body piercing, “blading,” “hanging exercise,” and “Fango therapy.”
But HPSO wants you be nervous about doing anything if you are not covered by insurance. An insert that came in the mailing asks, “Are you consulting, teaching, or training, in addition to providing counseling services?” And it goes on to say, “economic or financial loss incurred through your participation in such activities as public speaking…typically would not be covered by your professional liability policy.” Fortunately, “you can add this valuable protection to your new policy.”
Public speaking?! Lots of people I know are terrified to speak in front of an audience, period. (I have read somewhere that for many people, fear of public speaking ranks right up there with fear of death.) But if you are worried about getting sued just for opening your mouth in front of a group of people, then even hams like me might give it a second thought. Granted this coverage is only $25 a year (and this includes when you provide expert testimony), so it looks like it’s not a likely event. But still.
Okay, maybe you never have to speak in public as part of your job, but you do have to get to work and be there, sometimes working with people who are perhaps not the most balanced pendulum in the clock. So it’s nice to know that HPSO offers “expanded coverage up to $25,000 aggregate if you are assaulted at work or while commuting to or from your workplace.”
Interestingly, this coverage is “not available in Texas.”
This makes me wonder about counseling sessions in Texas. Maybe a typical interchange goes something like this:
Counselor: Well, Rick, do you think perhaps some of these aggressive feelings you have come from your relationship with your father?
Patient: My father? Don’t you say ‘nothin about my ole man! He was Texas, forever, man, Texas forever. (At this point, the patient, jumps out of his chair and attacks the therapist, who is screaming out, “Sorry, Rick, sorry. Your dad was a prince among men, a regular Davy Crockett!”)
As I approach my 69th birthday, I wonder if I should try new things. I actually do have a license to practice psychology, so one of the things I could do would be to get some training and start seeing clients. However, after looking at all this stuff about liability, I don’t think I’ll do this. And especially not in Texas.
But suddenly, I’m wondering. Do I need columnist insurance? Suppose someone literally splits his or her sides laughing at one of my funny lines. Am I liable?