Doctors Are Leaving Pennsylvania
In recent years, 2000 doctors have left the state or curtailed services due to unaffordable [legally-required malpractice] insurance premiums. These premiums have skyrocketed as a result of the past decade’s massive onslaught of medical malpractice lawsuits.
“Innocent doctors are being sued simply because their names are on the chart,” said Robert B. Surrick, Esq., Executive Director of the Politically Active Physicians Association (P.A.P.A.). “Examples include doctors who wrote discharge summaries but never saw the patient, and anesthesiologists who were not even in the operating room when the alleged incidents occurred.”
Surrick further explained that soon after a doctor is sued, his or her insurance policy is hit with an additional 25-50% surcharge. “Add that to the enormous costs of legal defense, it’s no wonder many doctors have decided to leave Pennsylvania,” said Surrick.
"Deaths and a serious lack of medical care are certain to result from lawyers chasing doctors out of Pennsylvania,” said Surrick. “It will take decades to reverse the damage the trial lawyers, legislators, and courts have inflicted on our people."
Pennsylvania Neurosurgical Society records reveal that until 1996, Pennsylvania gained practicing neurosurgeons at an average rate of 4.5 percent each year. That statistic has since been in decline. In 2004, the medical community had expected to have 304 practicing surgeons in Pennsylvania. Instead, it had only 152 — a 50 percent shortfall. According to a 2004 survey of medical residents by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the percentage of Pennsylvania-trained neurosurgical residents who plan to stay and practice in the state is “zero.” [Source: AAMC]
RAMPANT LAWSUIT ABUSE CITED
Since April 2002, doctors have been required to file reports with their licensing boards when they have been sued for malpractice. Last fall, an investigation by Surrick revealed that trial lawyers had filed 5,600 lawsuits against Pennsylvania physicians between May of 2002 and November, 2004. Of those lawsuits, the Pennsylvania Medical Board had reviewed 3,600 cases, and found only four (4) that showed merit.
“Trial lawyers have sued our doctors at the rate of six per day, seven days a week, for thirty months,” said Surrick. “Yet out of thousands of cases filed, only four have been deemed worthy of further investigation. We don’t have rampant medical malpractice in Pennsylvania. Rather, we have rampant medical malpractice lawsuit abuse.”
PENNSYLVANIA TRIAL LAWYERS CASH IN ON RECORD HIGH MALPRACTICE PAYOUTS
Pennsylvania trial lawyers have once again broken records in winning enormous medical malpractice awards.
Medical malpractice payouts in Pennsylvania have reached an all time high in 2004. According to a report just released by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, insurers reported paying out $448 million last year — a 13.5 percent increase over the $395 million paid out in 2003.
Since 2000, Pennsylvania medical malpractice insurance companies have paid out over $2.01 billion in medical malpractice lawsuits. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration report reveals extraordinarily high recent medical malpractice award payouts between 2000 and 2004 as follows:
2000 $350.8 million
2001 $423.7 million
2002 $398.9 million
2003 $394.5 million
2004 $448.0 million
“At the average contingent fee agreement of 40 percent, Pennsylvania trial lawyers pocketed $805 million,” said Robert B. Surrick, Esq., Executive Director of the Politically Active Physicians Association (P.A.P.A.).
P.A.P.A. PUSHES BACK
In response to the lawsuit abuse, Surrick initiated a program to protect doctors who are victims of frivolous lawsuits.
The “P.A.P.A. Pushes Back” program is designed to sue lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits against doctors. Physicians who feel they have been wrongly named in lawsuits can submit their cases to P.A.P.A. for review. If P.A.P.A.’s counsel determines the lawsuit to be frivolous, a countersuit will be filed against the plaintiff’s lawyer and all related parties who filed the suit.
“P.A.P.A. Pushes Back is an aggressive program to halt frivolous lawsuits,” said Surrick. "Doctors belong in the examination or operating room — not the courtroom. It is time to bring this massive lawsuit abuse to an end.”
P.A.P.A. was formed by concerned medical practitioners to ensure quality medical care can continue to be delivered to patients. The Association is committed to educating the public and the legislative bodies as to the escalating problems that threaten the effectiveness of medical care to those needing such care. For more information log on to www.fightingdocs.com or call 215-271-9590.
Politically Active Physicians Association
1332 Ritner Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148
© 2004 Dow Jones & Company. All Rights Reserved
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2004 - VOL. CCXLIII NO. 19 - ** $1.00
The Pennsylvania Premium
Don't get sick in Philadelphia.
When it comes to keeping the doctor away, an apple a day is no match for the tort bar. At the Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock Monday, President Bush complained about junk lawswts that "drive up premiums" and "cause docs to practice medicine in an expensive way in order to protect themselves in the courthouse."
Nowhere does this medical malpractice crisis loom larger than in Pennsylvania. According to a new survey of 590 physicians by the Harrisburg-based Lincoln Institute, half plan to leave the state if something isn't done about their skyrocketing insurance premiums. Nearly the same amount -- 46% -- say they've already closed a practice or eliminated a specialty. In short, patients are losing their options, while doctors are losing their patience.
What's driving these escalating premiums? Simple. In Pennsylvania there is no limit on damages awarded in medical-malpractice cases. Worse still, any fix requires amending a state constitution that prohibits caps on damages, a process that takes three to five years.
Yet despite the state's crisis status there's been almost no movement on this front. It doesn't help that the Keystone State's politicians have behaved more like the Keystone Kops. Governor Ed Rendell, for example, is touting a band-aid fix that would pay part of doctors' insurance premiums instead of addressing the enormous jury awards and settlements that are driving these premiums up in the first place.
Pennsylvanians can expect no help at the federal level either, at least from their senior senator. Liberal Republican Arlen Specter is now running for re-election, and though he's sounding more conservative as he faces a primary challenge from Rep. Pat Thomey--who does support med-mal reform--he's not lifted a finger on malpractice. That's no surprise, because he's voted against tort reform throughout his Senate career.
Moreover, the Senator's son, Shanin Specter, is a Philadelphia trial lawyer whose Web site boasts of big-dollar victories. These include a $49.6 million verdict that is described as "the then largest medical malpractice verdict in Pennsylvania history."
Alas, even if Pennsylvania began making all the right moves tomorrow, the med-mal problem would not disappear any time soon. Several states--Nevada and Mississippi, for instance--recently passed legislation capping damage awards. But trial lawyers are waiting in the wings, ready to challenge the laws in court, a process that will take years.
The only place where premiums have actually gone down is Texas, which passed a constitutional amendment to reform the tort system permanently. Premiums are also reasonable in states like California, where reforms enacted years ago have weathered state constitutional challenges.
The point is that until reformers push through a bill that survives the scrutiny of state courts, premiums won't go down and the exodus of doctors will continue. Real malpractice is one thing. But as President Bush noted Monday in Arkansas, isn't it about time we addressed the damage to the quality and accessibility of health care inflicted by those who are running up the costs by running to the courthouse?
Monday, May 03, 2004
John Grogan | One more doctor priced out of Pa.
By John Grogan
When I last visited him 13 months ago, Michael Flood thought he had his future figured out.
He and his wife, Elaine, were the proud parents of four young children and the happy owners of a new four-bedroom house near Doylestown. Flood, a recently minted internist from Temple University School of Medicine, was settling into a small family practice in Bucks County where he earned raves from his patients. The grandparents were nearby and the doctor's sister lived right down the street.
This was home to the couple. They loved it here and had no intention of leaving. Despite what he described as a harsh professional climate for physicians - high medical malpractice premiums and low insurance reimbursements - he was putting down roots.
I wrote about Flood as the face of Pennsylvania's medical future - a young, bright doctor willing to make his career here despite all the reasons not to. I ended that column with the words: "Dr. Flood, we're glad you're here."
But much can happen over the course of a year, and now I must amend my statement: "Dr. Flood, we're going to miss you."
On Friday, Flood, 36, confirmed the rumors I had been hearing. Despite ties to the area, he is pulling up stakes and taking a job with a health-care network in Appleton, Wis. He and his family leave Pennsylvania this month.
The doctor said his decision came only after weeks of soul-searching, but in the end it was a matter of simple economics: More money for fewer hours. A lot more money.
Flood declined to give specific dollar amounts, but he said his salary will jump by 75 percent, and his medical malpractice premiums (he paid $15,000 a year in Pennsylvania) will be paid by his new employer. In addition, he will earn a retirement pension, which he does not here. He also received a $15,000 signing bonus.
And in exchange for all those extra incentives, he will be on hospital rotation one in every nine weekends instead of the one in three weekends he is now. His weekday hours will be more predictable, too, and he will no longer be on 24-hour call every third day. He's hoping he will be able to make it home in time to eat dinner with his family once in a while.
Oh, and did we mention that Appleton has excellent public schools and a lower cost of living?
Pennsylvania's high malpractice premiums and low reimbursements are "a bad mix," he said. "You make up for it by working harder and harder and trying to generate extra income. Who gets sacrificed? Your family does."
It is a sacrifice Flood is no longer willing to make.
The new position will pay him enough to let him begin saving for retirement and his children's college educations, something he has not been able to do to date. More important, it allows him more time to be the kind of father and husband he wants to be.
"Like everyone, I try to balance work and family," he said. "We love it here. We don't want to leave. I love my practice; I love the guys I work with; I love my patients; I love the community. But it really isn't much of a decision."
Christopher Hermann, a Doylestown physician and one of Flood's two partners, said: "Wisconsin's gain is our loss. Dr. Flood is an excellent physician. I think he's doing what's right for him, but he's going to be missed."
In the propaganda war between the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, it is hard to know just how real the doctor crisis is. For instance, the medical society was recently exposed for exaggerating the numbers of physicians fleeing the state.
But Flood is a real doctor with real patients. And he's really leaving. This is no publicity stunt.
"I'm a statistic now," he said. "I'm the face of the guy who tried to make a go of it because his family is here and still couldn't make it work. I'm going to Wisconsin."
He paused before adding: "I'm not trying to get on a soapbox. That's just the reality."John Grogan writes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Contact him at 610-313-8132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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