- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Calling the rising cost of medical liability insurance “unacceptable,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday urged the D.C. Council to provide some relief for doctors.

He introduced the Health Care Reform Act of 2005, flanked by physicians and other medical officials who said they are being forced to practice elsewhere, making it more difficult for city residents to get adequate health care.

“We have the dubious distinction of having among the very highest medical liability insurance premiums in the nation and the highest jury awards in the nation,” Mr. Williams said.

His bill, similar to legislation introduced last year, would cap noneconomic damages, provide litigation immunity for health care workers at free clinics and develop a system for reporting medical errors in hospitals.

Awards against a physician would be limited to $250,000. But the cap would climb to $500,000 for awards against a single hospital and $1 million for awards against more than one health care facility.

“Making people millionaires because of pain and suffering is going to bankrupt our system,” said Victor Freeman, president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia (MSDC), a doctors advocacy group.

Of the 190 obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) surveyed last year by the group, 88 percent said they have moved out of the city or are considering doing so.

OB/GYNs, neurosurgeons and emergency physicians have been hit hardest by premium hikes in recent years.

For OB/GYNs, yearly fees in the District jumped from $75,143 in 2000 to $139,128 this year, Mr. Freeman said. That figure is expected to top $235,000 by 2010, he said.

The same policy costs $85,297 in Virginia and $143,477 in Maryland, according to the National Capital Reciprocal Insurance Company, which insures the majority of D.C. doctors.

Rates for general surgeons in the city are now $70,000 per year, nearly twice what they were five years ago, Mr. Freeman said.

“Five- to six-figure annual premiums are not uncommon,” said Dr. Peter Lavine, an orthopedic surgeon who’s been in private practice in the city for 14 years. “We need to act now because the cost of doing nothing is much too great.”

Dr. Lavine, who heads the MSDC’s board of directors, said he now sees an increasing number of his patients at a satellite office in Northern Virginia, where he schedules most of his surgeries.

“From an economic perspective, the District of Columbia is one jurisdiction in three markets,” said Robert Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association.

Mr. Malson said that while the city used to be the top choice for area doctors, that quickly is changing.

Mr. Williams acknowledged the legislation was “somewhat controversial.” While previous efforts to reform health care in the city have failed, the mayor said there is growing momentum for change.

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