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AMA Declares War on Malpractice Crisis.

Skyrocketing Fees Force Hospitals, Doctors to Cut Back on Care


Many physicians caught in a similar squeeze are fleeing states with high malpractice insurance rates and setting up practice in states that have reformed their legal systems. Corlin says that California is a good example of a state where reforms have worked.

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, called MICRA (pronounced mike-ra), limits the amounts that juries can award for pain and suffering to a maximum of $250,000 and also limits the contingency fees paid to attorneys, and it requires that multimillion-dollar awards be paid out over several years rather than in a lump sum.

Corlin says that MICRA has meant money in his pocket: "I pay $7,700 a year for malpractice insurance. But in Miami, a gastroenterologist pays up to $40,000." Similarly, an obstetrician in California pays an average of $60,588 for malpractice insurance, while a physician delivering babies in Miami has to pay more than $200,000.

Corlin says the situation is so bad that it has reached the critical stage in a dozen states -- Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia -- and 30 other states are reaching the breaking point.

Thus, the AMA has declared malpractice reform its No. 1 legislative priority. It wants a federal law similar to MICRA to be passed within a year. To bring pressure inside the beltway, the AMA is asking for help from trade groups, unions, employers, farmers, patient advocacy groups -- in short any one who is willing to join their ranks.

Corlin says the AMA's reform campaign will cost $15 million this year, and he is passing the hat to pay for it. At the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago, Corlin asked every one of the more than 550 delegates for a $1,000 donation "to fund our war chest," and he kicked off the campaign with his own check for $1,000. Within minutes more than 20 checks were deposited in campaign donation box.

M.A. Subhan, MD, a family physician from Kingman, Ariz., came to the AMA meeting as guest of some other physicians. Subhan tells WebMD that he came seeking help for his own problem: Even though he has never had a malpractice suit filed against him, his longtime carrier refused to renew his insurance.

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