Doctors stage protest at state Capitol in Pa.

About 30 area physicians joined thousands of other doctors to rally against the high cost of malpractice insurance premiums.

About 30 area physicians joined thousands of other doctors to rally against the high cost of malpractice insurance premiums.

May 07, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A local doctor said physicians from across Pennsylvania Tuesday "filled all the spaces on the Capitol steps and the lawn in front of the Capitol" to protest the rising cost of malpractice insurance premiums.

About 30 physicians boarded a bus Tuesday morning in Chambersburg and headed to Harrisburg, Pa., to join thousands of other doctors in the protest.

Dr. Sohael Raschid, owner of Women's Health Professionals of Chambersburg and president of the medical staff at Chambersburg Hospital, said the protesters are trying to get the state legislature to limit pain and suffering awards in malpractice cases to $250,000.


He said doctors in Pennsylvania are not opposed to settlements and jury awards for actual damages to patients if a physician is at fault.

Patients should be compensated for any long-term medical bills or lost wages, Raschid said. "One-hundred percent should go to the plaintiff, but don't tack on $100 million on top for pain and suffering," he said.

A placard carried by one of the protesting physicians read, "Don't waste a dollar on a lottery ticket. Just sue me," Raschid said.

The local physicians met with state Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin, who has supported legislation for a constitutional amendment that would cap punitive damages. "We thanked him for supporting our issues and asked him for his continued support," Raschid said.

It would take a constitutional amendment to cap punitive damages in malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, legislators have said.

Such an amendment requires passage by legislators in two consecutive legislative sessions and adoption by voters in a statewide referendum.

Last week, Dr. James Hurley, who runs South Central Surgical Associates in Chambersburg, said malpractice insurance premiums for the three specialists in his office totaled $45,000 for all three last year. This year, the premiums were $210,000, he said.

State law mandates that physicians carry malpractice insurance in order to practice in Pennsylvania, he said.

"If they get pushed out, doctors won't be able to practice in Pennsylvania," he said.

Norman Epstein, CEO at Summit Health, owner of Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals, said in prepared remarks Tuesday that, "The situation is critical, Pennsylvania is losing doctors, and others are refusing to practice in the state. The fact that our physicians are taking such a strong stand to educate the public, and force change, is a clear indication of the impact on patient access and care if this problem isn't addressed."

Seven medical practices in Franklin County closed Monday and Tuesday or operated on reduced hours in support of the protest, Raschid said.

Several Republican lawmakers took the podium on the Capitol steps and promised to push bills designed to discourage lawsuits or change the state Constitution to limit the amount of noneconomic damages.

Behind closed doors, members of the staff of Gov. Ed Rendell and state Senate and House leaders have been working on a short-term relief package, such as finding money to offset $220 million a year that doctors pay into a state malpractice insurance fund.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The Herald-Mail Articles