Health Care Crisis
There are currently about 46,000 licensed doctors practicing in the state of Pennsyvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State and many are leaving. The health care crisis has become a hot topic in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With many doctors preparing to leave and some of which have all ready left the state due to the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance. According to the American Medical Association Pennsylvania is one of twelve states in the midst of a liability crisis. "Steven Barrer doesn't want to move to New Jersey. I'm being forced out,' Barrer said. A neurosurgeon affiliated with Abington Memorial Hospital, Barrer has been dropped by his current malpractice insurance carrier and will be uninsured as of Jan. 1, 2002. According to state law, doctors cannot practice medicine without malpractice insurance. Barrer paid $72,000 for his malpractice insurance in 2000, $132,000 this year. If forced to get insurance from the state's Joint Underwriting Association (a state-operated association that provides malpractice insurance to doctors unable to get it from commercial insurance companies), he said it would cost $328,000". (1)
There are many issues that impact the rising cost of the malpractice insurance rates. But there are several groups that seem to be the most affected in these cases. They are the doctors, lawyers, insurance carriers and the patients. Medical malpractice lawsuits seem to be the predominant factor for the increase of insurance premiums. For the most part it is cheaper to "settle a case" then to proceed with a jury trial. Those that do actually go to a jury trial nationally is only about 9%.
In Bucks and Montgomery Counties it is mainly neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and obstetricians that seem to be the most affected by the insurance rates. Nationwide however the median jury award settlements have steadily increased since 1994. In a poll taken in 2002, 71% of Pennsylvanians see frivolous malpractice lawsuits and overly generous awards by juries in malpractice cases as most responsible for driving up malpractice insurance costs. Patients and their lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits against doctors for financial gain. California has a non-economic cap of $250,000 for pain and suffering. According to the American Medical Association, Pennsylvania is one of 12 states nationwide in the midst of a liability crisis. Only six states are considered stable, one of which is California, which passed significant liability reforms in 1975. The additional 32 states and the District of Columbia are considered states that are beginning to show problem signs. (2)
Most all doctors are experiencing an increase of insurance rates, no matter what their specialty is. Such as the case of a Doylestown Hospital Emergency Department physician who must pay his own insurance premiums. January 1, 2003 his premiums went from $50,000 a year to $94,000 a mere 88% increase. Pennsylvania is the second-highest state in the country for total payouts for medical liability. During the fiscal year 2000, combined judgments and settlements in Pennsylvania amounted to $352 millionor nearly 10% of the national total. Doctors in Pennsylvania are required to maintain at least 1 million dollar policy. Philadelphia and the counties surrounding it are hardest hit by the liability crisis. From January 1994 through August 2001, the median jury award in Philadelphia for a medical liability case was $972,900. For the rest of the state, including Pittsburgh, the median was $410,000. (3)
This alone shows that venue shopping is very advantageous to the attorney looking for that large dollar figure. Medical doctors however do make mistakes on their patients they are human and not machines. Some of these are valid claims. Such as operating on or removing the wrong limb or organ. The most recently publicized case was Jessica Santillan, a 17-year-old Mexican girl from North Carolina that died...
Cited: to Pa House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee, 4 Feb. 2003.
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