UMC Trauma Center in Las Vegas Reopens with Temporary Staff
The trauma center of the University Medical Center in Las Vegas reopened on Saturday after a number of private practice physicians agreed to staff the facility temporarily, the AP/Nando Times reports (Wagner, AP/Nando Times, 7/13). The UMC trauma center -- the only trauma center in Las Vegas -- closed on July 3 after 11 of 13 general trauma surgeons and 57 of 58 orthopedic surgeons resigned from trauma care responsibilities in response to rising malpractice insurance costs (California Healthline, 7/11). About 10 to 15 private practice orthopedic surgeons have agreed to become employees of Clark County for 45 days, a move that allows them to receive malpractice coverage under UMC's $50,000 liability cap. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) said that before the 45-day period ends, he plans to call a special session of the state Legislature to consider legislation to limit jury awards in malpractice lawsuits. Analysts expect Guinn to call the special session the week of July 29. The UMC trauma center serves a 10,000-square-mile area that includes southern Nevada and areas of California, Utah and Arizona. After the trauma center closed, Las Vegas became the largest metropolitan area in the nation without a trauma center (AP/Nando Times, 7/13).
In related news, Nevada Insurance Commissioner Alice Molasky-Arman has approved premium rate increases for two malpractice insurance companies with "some adjustments" to reduce the "burden" on doctors in southern Nevada, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The Doctors' Company had asked for a 28% rate increase, which was made up of 51% increase for physicians in Clark County and a 12% increase for doctors in the rest of the state. The insurance commissioner limited increases for current policy holders to 50% but allowed the company to raise rates by 15% in the area outside of Clark County. The insurance company Medical Protective Co. had sought an average 76% rate increase but received approval for a 63% increase. The increase would have raised rates by 93% for Clark County physicians and 1% for doctors in the rest of the state, but the insurance commissioner negotiated an agreement in which rates for Clark County physicians will increase by 76% and rates for doctors in the rest of the state will increase by 1% (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/13).
Meanwhile, a new study has found that the number of malpractice lawsuits filed in Clark County has increased by more than 400% over the past decade, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The study, conducted at the request of the state Legislature, found that attorneys in 1990 filed 33 malpractice lawsuits in District Court in Clark County, compared with 178 in 2001, an increase of 439%. Doctors "seized on the study ... as evidence that legislators must limit doctors' liability" through tort reform legislation and other measures. "It tells us what we have been saying all along: A tort reform package is crucial and absolutely necessary," Dr. Ikram Khan, a general surgeon and Guinn's liaison to the Nevada Physician's Medical Liability Reform Task Force, said. However, Bill Bradley, a trial lawyer based in Reno, said that the increased number of malpractice lawsuits filed in Clark County would "fall in line" with southern Nevada's "explosive growth" over the past decade (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/13).
In a commentary on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, columnist George Will said that the U.S. legal system, "already irrational and wasteful, is now becoming lethal." He attributed the closure of the UMC trauma center to increased malpractice insurance premiums and fear of litigation among doctors. According to Will, the fear of malpractice lawsuits leads to "wasteful, defensive medicine," as physicians order "costly" tests "to cover themselves" against litigation. "Much of the problem in Las Vegas and elsewhere is a rapacious interest group exploiting the entitlement mentality run amok," Will said, adding that trial lawyers have benefited from the "troubles" in Las Vegas. Will concluded that UMC case is a "symptom" of a "nationwide malady" and a "warning that tort reform is urgent" (Will, "This Week," ABC, 7/14).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.