Monday, June 23, 2008

In Defense Of Physicians

Unfortunately, we who handle malpractice cases are often seen as antagonists or enemies by physicians. In all honesty, however, we probably have more in common than we both realize. First, physicians deserve to make as much money in our free market system as their competence and expertise will allow. Right now, physician reimbursement rates from insurance companies and the government (Medicare, for example) are declining steadily, and this is wrong. In fact, under curent federal law, reimbursement rates for Medicare patients will decline by 10.6% in July, 2008, and another 5% in 2009.

There was a bill pending in the U.S. Senate (S 3101) that would have provided for increased reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients, but it fell 6 votes shy of passing. Senator Brown voted for the bill and Senator Voinivich voted against it. If the reimbursement rates continue to decline, doctors may find it difficult or impossible to continue to treat Medicare patients.

One thing you can do is call Sen. Voinivich's office and tell him to support S. 3101.

Secondly, medical malpractice insurance companies were gouging physicians 5-7 years ago by raising malpractice rates by over 100% for some specialties. Of course, the insurance industry blamed rate increases entirely on lawsuits and "trial lawyers," and a massive "campaign" was launched to seek legal reforms with the promise that rates would fall again if reforms were passed. The reforms were passed, but physicians' malpractice premium rates have not dramatically decreased at the same rate in which they rose.

We said all along that physicians were being wrongly fleeced by their own insurance companies because of stock market losses, but this fell on deaf ears. Ideally, it would have been nice to join forces with physicians and expose the accounting and financial shenanigans of the malpractice insurance companies, but because the malpractice insurance-physician relationship is similar to a pre-arranged marriage, it was more convienient to paint trial lawyers as the culprits.

Nevertheless, it is our belief that physicians deserve to be well compensated for all the good work that they do, but should also be accountable like everybody else when preventable mistakes harm patients.

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