Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Cost of Doing Business
If you were to read the cases I read, you'd know why insurance rates are so high for doctors, OB/GYNs in particular: (1) lawsuits and (2) high jury awards (millions and millions of dollars). The following article from CBS in Chicago highlights a doctor who just couldn't make money anymore. I'm afraid this will happen with increasing frequency. And, why spend years in medical school if it is not profitable?

Doctors Protest Malpractice Rates

Mar 24, 2004 10:00 pm US/Central
CHICAGO (CBS 2) On Friday doctors will march through Chicago's Loop to protest what doctors are calling a crisis in Illinois, skyrocketing insurance rates.

The cause of this crisis is being argued in emergency rooms, court rooms and smoke-filled rooms. But this story is not about who's at fault or the reasons why medical malpractice insurance premiums have soared in the past few years. It's a story about how some doctors are dealing with it and how that could change the way you get your health care.

Dr. Eileen Murphy has been delivering babies for 18 years, including Governor Blagojevich's daughter, Anne. But on April 30 she'll see her last patient. She just can't afford to do it anymore.

"I haven't been able to pay myself in three months. I'm paying the cost of doing business," Murphy said.

The problem's not her $170,000 a year salary. It's her insurance premium which jumped to $138,000 this year. Without insurance she can't get hospital privileges.

"If anything goes wrong, even if it's a possible complication, a possible natural outcome, you can almost guarantee that you are going to be sue," Murphy said.

Dr. Mark Macumber, a family physician in Berwyn, also got a shock when he opened his insurance bill.

"What drove me over the edge was my premiums went from $10,000 a year to $40,000 a year, in one year," Macumber said.

So he took the radical step of dropping insurance all together. He asks patients to sign a form explaining that he has no coverage. He does not ask them to sign a promise not to sue. But Macumber says he'll risk it until something is done about soaring insurance costs.

"Sometimes they're tort reforms, sometimes they're controls on the way that insurance companies are controlling their premiums. But some states are able to control it. Illinois needs to control it," Macumber said.

Dr. Hunt Batjer is a neurosurgeon at Northwestern. Two years ago, he and his colleagues paid $70,000 each for insurance.

"Our department is now paying $240,000 each per year,” Batjer said.

But many can't afford it. The state neurological society says that 18 percent of Illinois' active neurosurgeons are expected to retire, relocate, or stop operating this year. Dr. Batjer says he's finding it difficult to recruit or even train doctors.

"Well, I've seen it in the courses I teach for the medical school here at Northwestern. The students have a great interest in neuroscience, but they want no part of the business of practicing neurosurgery," Batjer said.

"At some point someone's going to need a neurosurgeon, and they won't be there. Or someone's going to need an obstetrician, and they won't be there," Macumber said.

That's already the case in Belleville, Ill., where there are no doctors who will handle hi-risk pregnancies. And the situation is likely to get worse statewide. A group called the OB-GYN Crisis Coalition says 13 percent of Illinois obstetricians either dropped their practices, or moved out of state last year. Right now there are no neurosurgeons in the entire Joliet area. Cases of head trauma must come to Chicago.


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