January 25, 2002
Expectant Mothers and Their Doctors
Will Rally At Capitol to Address Women's Health Issues
January 29 Rally Will Focus on Impact Of
Liability Insurance Costs on Health Care Services
- Expectant mothers and their
doctors will rally at the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, January 29, to urge
corrections to the medical liability system that's causing a chilling effect
on women's health services in the state.
Hundreds of obstetrical patients and physicians, along with women's health
center directors and concerned citizens, will convene at 1:30 p.m. to tell
their stories and ask the state legislature to correct abuses of a system
that generates an unrealistic liability insurance climate, thus limiting the
number of obstetricians willing to deliver babies in Pennsylvania. Some
liability insurance rates have climbed as high as 90 percent in 2001 and
another 70 percent in 2002.
Spurred by skyrocketing malpractice awards, runaway insurance premiums are
forcing doctors to cut back on services. With fewer resources to invest in
new medical equipment, physicians are forced to close smaller branch offices
and must reduce office staff. A 2001 study conducted by the Pennsylvania
Medical Society supports this trend. The survey indicates that 72 percent of
physician practices have deferred the purchase of new equipment or the
hiring of new staff in order to handle the sudden and sharp increases.
Further complicating the problem is that several liability insurers have
pulled out of Pennsylvania citing the business climate.
"This crisis is dragging down health care services in Pennsylvania," says
William R. Crombleholme, M.D., chair of the Pennsylvania Section of the
American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (PA ACOG) and a Pittsburgh
physician. "We're deeply concerned that the liability climate is negatively
impacting a patient's access to medical care. Quality of our medical
resources should not be compromised by unnecessary economic factors,
although that's happening."
"We need to reform - not abolish - liability laws," says Dr. Crombleholme.
"Reasonable laws that protect patients are a must. But we shouldn't allow
abuse of the system with frivolous lawsuits brought on by personal injury
lawyers and unreasonable jury verdicts to jeopardize patients' access to
Driving premiums through the roof are excessive sums awarded in malpractice
suits. Pennsylvania ranks second among states in terms of total payouts for
medical litigation. "The numbers are mind boggling," observes Dr. Ann
Honebrink, vice chair for PA ACOG and a Philadelphia physician. Combined
judgments and settlements for fiscal year 2000 amounted to $352 million --
nearly 10 percent of the U.S. total.
"The cost of liability insurance makes it impossible to provide a full
service OB-GYN practice," Dr. Honebrink adds.
To fend off litigation and cope with steep premiums, doctors ultimately are
being forced to take defensive measures and other necessary actions:
-- Some doctors are throwing up their hands and calling it quits altogether,
taking valuable years of medical experience with them.
-- Many OB-GYNs are discontinuing high-risk services, such as delivering
babies and gynecologic surgery, often increasing patient load for remaining
-- In other practices that continue obstetrical care, those patients become
a priority while other women wait for necessary gynecologic care or
-- Doctors feel pressured to order extra tests that could be expensive or
unnecessary. A nationwide study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics has
estimated that "defensive medicine" costs an additional $50 billion