Doctors air concerns on medical insurance


Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 10:42 p.m.
WEST PALM BEACH - More than 1,000 Florida doctors are expected to stay away from work Monday and Tuesday to bring attention to the soaring cost of medical malpractice insurance.
Organizers stressed that the two-day event is not a strike or a walk-off. The doctors, from Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, plan to attend a malpractice insurance symposium sponsored by the Palm Beach County Medical Society.
"We want the patients to understand that there's a major crisis and something has to be done soon," said Dr. Stephen Babic, a Delray Beach cardiologist and the medical society's point person on medical malpractice reform.
Area hospitals have prepared for their absence by beefing up their emergency room staff, rescheduling elective surgeries and reducing their operating room staff. Doctors, meanwhile, have rescheduled appointments.
"The physicians are going to do their normal rounds in the morning and in the afternoon after the meetings," said Madelyn Passarella, a spokeswoman for JFK Medical Center in Atlantis. She said doctors from the hospital agreed to return during the day in the event of an emergency.
U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, American Medical Association President-elect Donald J. Palmisano, and Dr. Robert E. Cline, president of the Florida Medical Association, will be on hand for the meetings.
"We want the people to realize that their doctors are in trouble now because they're practicing without insurance," Babic said.
A group called Floridians for Patient Protection plans to hold a news conference Monday to coincide with the medical society's event that will feature victims of medical negligence.
"Who is caring for all the patients that I suppose had to have their appointments canceled?" said Cindy Brown, executive director for Floridians for Patient Protection.
Brown said the doctor's complaints create "this perception of fear that once again leaves the patients out in the cold."
Doctors in several states have complained about rising malpractice insurance rates, driven at least in part by large jury awards. Some surgeons in West Virginia and Mississippi temporarily walked off the job in protest earlier this month, and New Jersey doctors are considering a walkout in February.
In Florida, a task force appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush voted to recommend this month that jury awards for punitive damages and pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice cases should be capped at $250,000. A final report is due by the end of the month.
Doctors and insurance companies have said the jury awards have spiraled out of control and pushed insurance rates out of the reach of many doctors. Advocates of the reform say the costs have led doctors to abandon certain procedures or abandon their practices, leaving some areas without critical health care access.

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