Doctors are Finally Fighting Back

Physician's Money Digest, February15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 3

In my ongoing relationship withphysicians, I have seldom seenthem stick together on a generalcause. It appears the nation's currentmedical malpractice insurance crisisis altering that condition.

In my home state of New Jersey(where this magazine publishes),many of the state's 20,0000 practicingphysicians participated in a workslowdown in February. A broad colationof NJ doctors (including allmedical specialties) are protesting theexploding cost of malpractice premiums(increases averaged 40% for NJdoctors in 2002) and skyrocketingmalpractice jury awards. Accordingto a Medical Society of New Jersey(MSNJ; www.msnj.org) survey, nearlyhalf of state doctors said medicalliability has negatively impactedpatient care.

Doctors postponedroutine medical care to boostpublic awareness and educate patientson the malpractice emergency.My state isn't the only onewith libality problems—physicianshave planned or held work outs inMississippi, Pennsylvania, Nevada,and West Virginia. In response,President Bush called for nationaltort reform legislation in his State ofthe Union Address.

NJ DOCTOR ACTION

Some NJ physicians stoppedwork for 1 day, some for 3 days, andsome (mostly surgeons) say they willsit out indefinitely. The MSNJ, whichis spearheading the protest efforts,states that patients requiring emergencyor continuing care were notaffected by the work stoppage.

Meaningful tort reform is theonly reasonable solution, say manyNJ doctors. This includes caps onjury awards for noneconomic damages,a restriction on attorney fees,and reform of the expert witnessrules. Unfortunately, NJ GovernorJames McGreevey (a hopelesslypathetic career politician) failed toeven address the malpractice issue inhis recent State of the State Address.

"It's been 13 months since wesaw the initial symptoms of drasticallyrising insurance premiums,"saysDr. Robert Rigolosi, MSNJ president."Since then, doctors have takendrastic steps to continue practicing;including moving out of state andrestricting needed medical procedures.Many residents have lostaccess to their physicians and thetrend is escalating."In support ofreform efforts, 16,000 petitions frompatients were sent to the state capitol.

HOLD FIRM

I'm not counting on much helpfrom NJ government types, however.Just consider this brainless quotefrom the governor's chief of staff:"On Monday they'll be striking. OnTuesday, they're going to march onthe State House. On Wednesday,they're going to play golf,"James Foxsaid. "The doctors are holding outfor something they can't get."In theface of such outrageous cynicism,holding out is all the doctors have.