Insurance Costs Stop Volunteer Doctors in Idaho

August 22, 2006

A retired medical doctor in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho,who wants to donate his time to the Dirne Health Care Center in northern Idaho says he is unable to do so because medical malpractice insurance would cost him at least $10,000.

Norman Leffler, 77, said he wants to work at the center, which has a waiting list of as many as 500 patients.

“We’ve got enough people in this county — besides the wealthy — who could really use this,” Leffler told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “The medical practice situation we’re in today, well, the government isn’t going to do anything. But we can do something locally.”

The clinic changed from a free clinic to a federally funded health care center in 2003 so it could offer more services. But in making the move, the clinic lost some of the benefits of a free clinic, including immunity from malpractice lawsuits for volunteer doctors.

“It really inhibits volunteer activity,” said Joel Hughes, CEO for the Dirne Clinic.

The clinic, he said, paid $7,000 for insurance to cover volunteers.

The clinic has a budget of about $2.6 million, and receives $650,000 in federal funding. It also receives money from patients with Medicaid and Medicare.

Hughes said Leffler and other doctors who want to donate their time and expertise could contact him to see if it might be possible to have them covered by the Dirne insurance plan.

The National Association of Community Health Centers, Hughes said, is trying to have the federal law changed so that volunteers would be covered.

Luke Malek is a former spokesman for the Dirne Clinic, now working for Gov. Jim Risch as a liaison in Coeur d’Alene.

“Once you’re a patient of Dirne, you’re a patient for life,” he said. “In the long run, this helps control health costs. Dirne wanted to do it because they’re now able to exponentially serve more people.”

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