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Letters to the Editor

Malpractice laws:

| Monday, May 24, 2004

Dear Editor:

A doctor who left Pennsylvania for Wisconsin after he was not able to practice medicine full-time because of health-related concerns claims that his medical liability insurance was less in Wisconsin than in Pennsylvania because of a difference in medical malpractice laws.

I decided to check out this interesting proposition by reading "The Impact of State Laws Limiting Malpractice Awards on the Geographic Distributions of Physicians" put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the government statistics, Wisconsin imposed a cap on damages in 1985 and has 137 doctors per 100,000 county residents. Pennsylvania, with no cap, has many more physicians, with 192 doctors per 100,000 county residents. Interestingly, for the time periods the government looked at, the increase in the number of doctors in Wisconsin was 104.5 percent and Pennsylvania was nearly identical at 102.1 percent.

The government concluded that Pennsylvania was much closer to the "mean" number of physicians per 100,000 residents than was Wisconsin.

As to the premiums for this former Lycoming County obstetrician, the average rate for primary coverage was $46,000 to $66,000 in Philadelphia and now the doctors do not have to pay the MCare surcharge due to two major bailouts, from the Auto CAT Fund and the cigarette tax. The premiums in Lycoming County are much less.

The average obstetrician in Wisconsin pays $40,400 per year, total.

The former Lycoming County doctor also complained that he gets paid less than a plumber or an electrician. Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the top earning profession in this country is still that of a physician. The average obstetrician/gynecologist after expenses makes approximately $220,000 net per year, according to Medical Economics. I do not know too many electricians or plumbers who make that kind of money.

Finally, the former Lycoming County doctor indicates that the answer is "tort reform" even though Pennsylvania has had two major medical malpractice tort reform bills passed in 1996 and again in 2002 with a number of significant court rules as well. None other than the Weiss Insurance Study, an industry spokesman, has stated that: "Thus, it was a combination of two powerful forces -- under reserving throughout most of the 1990s, plus the rapid fall in investment income in 2000s -- that largely drove the unusual rapid premium increases, not only in med mal, but in many other property and casualty lines as well."

So-called tort reform simply increases transaction costs, thus raising the cost of medical malpractice insurance, and denies compensation to those who justly deserve it.

The answer continues to be, as it always has been, patient safety, insurance reform (of which we have had none) and a less expensive, more efficient legal system.

Clifford A. Rieders, esquire

Williamsport

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