NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Don't Get Sick in Philadelphia

January 28, 2004

All over the country, junk lawsuits are driving up premiums and causing doctors to practice medicine in an expensive way to protect themselves in the courthouse, says President Bush. And nowhere does this medical malpractice crisis loom larger than in Pennsylvania.

According to a new survey of 590 physicians by the Harrisburg-based Lincoln Institute:

  • Half of the doctors plan to leave the state if something isn't done about their skyrocketing insurance premiums.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) say they've already closed a practice or eliminated a specialty.

In short, patients are losing their options, while doctors are losing their patience.

The reason for the increased desertion is that in Pennsylvania there is no limit on damages awarded in medical-malpractice cases. And any fix requires amending a state constitution that prohibits caps on damages, which would take three to five years.

Despite the state's looming crisis, there has been almost no movement to amend the constitution. The only solution being put forth is a band-aid fix that would pay part of doctors' insurance premiums instead of addressing the enormous jury awards and settlements that are driving these premiums up in the first place.

In contrast, the only place where malpractice premiums have gone down is Texas, which passed a constitutional amendment to reform the tort system permanently. Premiums are also reasonable in states like California, where reforms enacted years ago have weathered state constitutional challenges.

Source: Editorial, "The Pennsylvania Premium," Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2004; based upon "Malpractice Insurance Crisis Impacting Health Care in PA: Survey finds 70% of doctors had difficulty getting specialized care for patients," Lincoln Institute, December 2003.

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http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB107525092259213596,00.html

 

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