North Carolina’s economic woes are reportedly well-known, with textile mills shutting down, a less-than encouraging national financial outlook, and lengthy lines at the unemployment office. The situation may continue to get worse for North Carolina due to yet another factor – skyrocketing medical liability insurance rates with reportedly no end in sight.
North Carolina has been categorized as a crisis state due to the magnitude of patients losing access to medical care, plus other deleterious effects to doctors and hospitals resulting from the lack of medical liability insurance reforms such as physicians closing their practices, moving to states with better healthcare prognoses or halting the performance of “high risk” procedures like delivering babies.
With fewer doctors available and a resulting threat to individual healthcare, North Carolina is reportedly becoming less attractive to businesses.
“We’ve lost 150,000 net private sector jobs in our state in the last two years. That’s incredible. Compound that with physicians leaving town and hospitals that are closing down – why would they want to come here?” asked N.C. Senator Robert Pittenger, who sponsored a N.C. Senate liability reform bill. “Peoples’ lives are on the line because of indecision, because of inaction, because of poor public policy.”
Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR), a group of 230,000 doctors across the United States, is reportedly fighting to amend the dire insurance problems faced by North Carolina’s medical practitioners.
One key step toward this goal is reportedly the passage of federal legislation for medical liability reform to place caps on non-economic damages in malpractice lawsuits. The average large medical liability recovery increased 74 percent from 1992 to 2002, reports N.C. Lawyers Weekly, and the average number of million dollar settlements per year for North Carolina medical liability cases tripled in that same span of time. Climbing payouts such as these reportedly result in prohibitively high annual insurance rates for all doctors, regardless of whether they have ever been sued.
Dr. David Mauerhan, an orthopedic surgeon in North Carolina, explained, “Certainly all of us would agree that when an injury happens to a patient they deserve to have just and fair compensation. But we’ve got a tort system now that’s totally out of control.”
“We can no longer take for granted that a well-qualified doctor practicing at a modern hospital will be readily available the next time we get sick. That’s because the soaring cost of doing business is about to put them out of business,” wrote North Carolina magazine in its January 2003 cover story “Growing Pains.” A state with such threats to individual healthcare will not attract new business.
In North Carolina, DMLR has submitted pledges of support for national liability reform to the state’s two U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Congressman Richard Burr and Democrat Erskine Bowles. Rep. Burr has signed the pledge; Bowles reportedly declined.
DMLR is an issue advocacy group founded to pursue national medical liability reform. DMLR reportedly believes that a cap on non-economic damages will help the ever-growing crisis among physicians.
Without meaningful liability reform, North Carolina will reportedly continue to lose gifted doctors.