- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

Some Maryland doctors have said they’ll start cutting back on their work today to protest the rising costs of medical-malpractice insurance.

Several doctors at Prince George’s Hospital Center decided more than a month ago to withhold certain elective procedures starting Nov. 15, but a hospital spokesman yesterday said hospital officials are planning on business as usual today.

“We don’t have any indication that is going to be the case,” said Bob Howell, a spokesman for Prince George’s Hospital. “We have doctors on the schedule who do elective cases.”

Last month, Dr. Willie Blair, president of the hospital’s medical staff, said doctors were planning to withhold elective surgeries, such as hernia operations, biopsies and colonoscopies, to protest rising insurance rates.

Dr. Blair could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In Washington County, a small group of doctors is planning to cancel elective procedures starting today, said Dr. Karl Riggle, who helped to organize the slowdown. He said the doctors are canceling the procedures so they can spend more time lobbying state lawmakers.

Maryland doctors are upset about a 33 percent increase in their medical-malpractice premiums set to kick in next month, which follows an earlier 28 percent.

Dr. Lipishree Nayak, a member of the Prince George’s Hospital medical staff executive committee, said yesterday she was unsure whether surgeons planned to go ahead with plans to withhold elective procedures.

“I don’t think there are any physicians who would want to do this,” said Dr. Nayak, who practices internal medicine.

“I think what the surgeons are saying to people is, ‘When you fall sick, you come to us and we take care of you, and now you need to be aware of our problem.’”

She said surgeons were talking about the idea as recently as last week, but that doctors who do not perform surgery hadn’t been discussing the possibility of a slowdown.

“As medical doctors, we’re not doing anything other than continuing to call our legislators to keep them apprised of the problem,” Dr. Nayak said. “The medical doctors are badly affected, but not as badly as the surgeons and the OB-GYNs. By the end of the year, they don’t know if they’re going to be in business or not.”

The Maryland State Medical Society, which represents most physicians in the state, is advising against the idea.

In a recent memo to doctors, the physicians group said state and federal anti-trust laws prohibit group boycotts. Instead, the lobbying organization says doctors should decide on their own what to do.

Other doctors at Prince George’s Hospital also oppose a slowdown, saying they worry that the move could get them into trouble with the U.S. Justice Department.

Meanwhile, legislators are planning to meet this week to discuss ways to give doctors a break on their insurance premiums.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report

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