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    Sunday, January 05, 2003

    Med Mal Circuit: The medical malpractice insurance problem continues to be a thorn in the side of doctors everywhere. In Tampa hospitals are letting neurosurgeons practice without insurance (The surgeons must be terribly dedicated to take that risk. One bad case could be your ruin):

    Four doctors at the hospital quit practicing there recently because they cannot get malpractice insurance or do not want to pay the increased costs. The loss of those doctors, and possibly more, could affect patient care, hospital Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine said Friday.

    To maintain neurosurgery service, Levine recommended waivers for two neurosurgeons so they could work without malpractice insurance, which is known in medical circles as ``going bare.'' The hospital board approved the waivers.

    At least two other hospitals in the area, Tampa General and University Community, have faced similar problems and recently changed regulations to allow staff doctors to work without malpractice insurance.

    Interestingly, Florida prohibits insurance companies from investing more than 15% of their profits in the stock market, yet they still have the same malpractice insurance problems that everyone else has. So much for the trial lawyer argument that the problem is caused by bad investments.

    And in a small community in Illinois, doctors are leaving for greener pastures:

    Some notable departures from the staffs at Alton Memorial and Saint Anthony's Health Center are Dr. Robert Hamilton, a general surgeon, who retired at 63 a year ago after 29 years of service in the area; Dr. Bryan Lohrbach, an orthopedist, who moved to Appleton, Wis.; and Dr. Nick Lorens, a gastroenterologist, who moved to Columbia, Mo. Lohrbach saved more than $50,000 a year in malpractice insurance premiums with the move to Wisconsin. Lorens' malpractice premiums were half as much in Columbia.

    Meanwhile, lawyers and healthcare insurance providers are protesting the reforms proposed in Pennsylvania. The lawyers' complaints are typical, and of not much merit. Here's one lawyer's comments on the proposal to require certificates of merit from independent physicians before a case can be filed :

    Ambrose said he doubts that Rendell's proposal to require certificates of merit in medical malpractice cases would dramatically lower the number of cases filed each year. Rendell's Medical Malpractice Liability Task Force estimated it would reduce the number of cases filed by 25 percent.

    "In Pennsylvania, you can't file an action until you have an opinion from a board-certified physician who practices in the area," Ambrose said. "That opinion must state that the doctor in question deviated from the standard of care and caused injury or death to occur."

    Yes, but how independent is that board-certified physician? Is he on the law firm's payroll to provide them with just that sort of statement? An independent physician would be much more trustworthy than one hired by either party, and it's difficult to see what would be so objectionable about that. Unless of course, you're afraid it'll cut into your income by curtailing the number of suits you can file.

    The healthcare insurance companies, however, have a legitimate gripe. The plan calls for them to cover some of the costs of doctor's malpractice insurance premiums. That makes no sense at all, and in the end could do far more harm than good. Forced to pay for malpractice insurance, healthcare insurers surely would decrease reimbursements to physicians and increase rates to consumers. Far better to keep the malpractice issue where it belongs: among doctors, lawyers, malpractice insurance companies, and the tort system.

    posted by Sydney on 1/05/2003 09:15:00 AM 0 comments


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