Rising Malpractice Insurance Premiums Prompt OB/GYNs To Leave Field
If the "skyrocketing" costs of malpractice insurance for obstetricians continue to rise, the nation's growing shortage of OB/GYNs will "worsen" as more physicians leave the field due to financial constraints, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. USA Today reports that in recent years, liability insurance premiums have been rising steadily around the country, particularly in areas where juries often award large damages to plaintiffs in lawsuits against obstetricians, and these increased costs have made such insurance unaffordable or even unavailable for many obstetricians. In the nine states that ACOG has identified as having reached a "crisis" point, many doctors have ceased to deliver infants or have relocated to other states (Elias, USA Today, 5/6). "Without insurance, OB-GYNs are forced to stop delivering babies, stop surgical services or close their doors," ACOG President Dr. Thomas Purdon said, adding, "Women and newborns are hurt the most." ACOG, which is holding its annual meeting this week in Los Angeles, said that in nine "hot" states -- Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia -- OB/GYN insurance premiums have recently tripled or quadrupled and malpractice coverage has become very difficult to obtain (AP/Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/6). In addition, seven other states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia -- were named by ACOG as being "on their way" to an obstetrician shortage crisis. Insurance premiums for OB/GYNs increased nationwide by 7% in 2000 and rose by 12.5% in 2001, and average rates are expected to increase by 15% in 2002, according to the Medical Liability Monitor. The cost of such insurance "var[ies] widely" throughout the United States. While the average premium in Nebraska is $12,000 per year, obstetricians in Florida's Dade and Broward Counties could be required to pay up to $208,000 per year for malpractice insurance (ACOG release, 5/6).
According to the AP/Cincinnati Enquirer, ACOG members are "hoping for state and federal tort reform" in order to cap jury damage awards, which they say are at least partially to blame for the rising cost of malpractice insurance. In childbirth malpractice lawsuits between 1994 and 2000, the average amount awarded to plaintiffs was $2 million, according to the Horsham, Pa.-based Jury Verdict Research (AP/Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/6). However, San Diego medical negligence lawyer Janice Mulligan says that award caps are not the answer. In California, where there is a $250,000 cap on malpractice awards, "you're just shifting the pocket that costs are coming out of," Mulligan said, adding that many infants injured during childbirth require life-long, expensive care (USA Today, 5/6). Purdon said, "If current trends continue, all states are at risk of losing women's health physicians and obstetrical care" (ACOG release, 5/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.