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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

 (SafetyAlerts) - 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 care."

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 physicians.
-- In other practices that continue obstetrical care, those patients become a priority while other women wait for necessary gynecologic care or preventive exams.
-- 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
per year.

Source: PRNewswire.

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