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Pa. doctors to protest

Two Pa. doctors said they would close their offices for all but emergencies for two days to protest the growing medical malpract

Two Pa. doctors said they would close their offices for all but emergencies for two days to protest the growing medical malpract

April 29, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Two Chambersburg physicians said they will join colleagues who are closing their offices for all but emergencies next Monday and Tuesday to protest skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums that have forced more than 1,000 Pennsylvania physicians to leave the state or retire early.

The protest is being led by the Pennsylvania Medical Society. It is supported by physicians and hospitals across the state, said Dr. Sohael Raschid, owner of Women's Health Professionals of Chambersburg and president of the medical staff at Chambersburg Hospital.

Pennsylvania doctors will gather in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday to carry their protest to the state legislature, Raschid said. Area physicians will meet a 45-passenger bus in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Lincoln Way East in Chambersburg at 6:30 a.m.

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Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, thousands of white-coated doctors rallied in the Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh areas Monday, calling for state government to ease the medical malpractice crisis.

"Malpractice is getting out of hand," Raschid said. "People are suing for the most frivolous reasons and we're seeing runaway jury awards."

He said a case in Philadelphia in December drew an award of $100 million.

Dr. James Hurley runs South Central Surgical Associates on Norland Avenue in Chambersburg with two other physicians.

"Three years ago the medical malpractice insurance premium for all three of us was $45,000," Hurley said. "Last year it was $140,000 and this year it jumped to $210,000. It's out of control."

Pennsylvania requires physicians to have medical malpractice insurance.

The problem lies with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Hurley said. "They've gone wild with jury verdicts."

Philadelphia paid out more in malpractice settlements and verdicts than the whole state of California last year, he said. Hurley said 57 cents out of every $1 in settlements and verdicts goes to the lawyers, not the patients.

"There are 3,000 trial lawyers in Pennsylvania and 35,000 physicians, but nobody is listening to us," Raschid said. "The lawyers have a well-funded lobby. Doctors don't know anything about law. Trying to get doctors to unify is like trying to herd cats."

The Pennsylvania Medical Society picked up the cause and put out the word to physicians, Raschid said. "Our frustrations coalesced. Now we're trying to draw attention to the problem," he said.

"The doctors are really fired up over this and doctors vote with their feet," Hurley said.

One local physician left because of the malpractice issue. "He said he'd had enough," Hurley said.

Malpractice insurance premiums are considerably lower in Maryland, Hurley said. Adding to Keystone State physicians' woes is the fact that commercial insurance, Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements are lower in Pennsylvania, he said.

"I would make twice as much doing a hernia operation in Maryland as I do here, but Chambersburg is my home," Hurley said. "I've been here 16 years. My children go to school here."

"My district is being hurt hard by this because malpractice rates in Maryland are so low," said State Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin.

Fleagle said capping malpractice settlements and verdicts only can be done through a constitutional amendment. "The constitution doesn't allow caps," he said.

The earliest such an amendment could reach state voters is the spring of 2005, Fleagle said. Amendments have to pass through two consecutive legislative sessions first, he said.

"The House is going to pass something as a stopgap measure," he said. "We're looking at it now."

Fleagle, who is on the board of directors at Summit Health, owner of Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pa., hospitals, said he is familiar with the problem. "Physicians are being run out of Pennsylvania. We're going to do something to avoid a crisis."

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