PA Doctors Threaten January Shutdown over Med Mal Costs

December 30, 2002

Surgeons in Scranton have issued a warning that they could effectively go on strike as early as January if something isn’t done to relieve the ever-increasing cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums in the state.

According to a report from the Associated Press at least 45 doctors in Scranton said they have stopped accepting new patients and won’t perform surgeries after the first of January. “The total includes 10 of the small city’s 18 general surgeons, 14 of its 15 orthopedists, and all 8 of its urologists,” said the AP. Doctors claim they are being “driven out of the market” by the high cost of insurance premiums.

The article quoted neurosurgeon Shripathi Holla as stating that his malpractice insurance costs $450 a day — a rate he says is strangling his practice and preventing his hospital from recruiting doctors. If the plans are carried out it could have severe affects on Scranton area hospitals and their patients.

While stopping short of labeling the action a “strike,” which AMA guidelines have labeled an unethical practice as it reduces patients’ access to medical care, the doctors appear serious about taking some kind of action to dramatize their situation. Many surgeons in the area have indicated that due to their high insurance costs, they have no choice but to close, either by retiring from practice or moving to another state, although whether they will find conditions any better in neighboring states such as New Jersey or Ohio is questionable.

The AP indicated that “Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Ed Rendell has appointed a special commission to consider short-term aid packages that would keep the doctors working while the state tries to develop a permanent solution.”

The situation certainly wasn’t improved by a Dec. 20 letter to Pennsylvania physicians from Secretary of the Commonwealth C. Michael Weaver, “reminding” them of their professional and legal obligations. Many expressed outrage by the apparent lack of understanding of their plight by a senior state official.

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