For the past few years we have been hearing about the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance and how it is driving doctors out of some of the most important practices. That message hit home last week when we learned that one of the two obstetricians in Lincoln County, Dr. Bernice Redmond, will no longer treat women past 14 weeks of pregnancy. Her departure leaves Lincoln County with only one obstetrician, Dr. John Chang. We are fortunate that he is still available.
Dr. Redmond didnâ€™t want to give up the calling, which has been a major part of her practice for years. But she had little choice as the insurance costs kept soaring higher. She was facing insurance payments of nearly $61,000 to carry on her services as an obstetrician. When she stops delivering babies, the cost will drop to $14,300. Her decision is understandable. Itâ€™s the same decision many other obstetricians are considering.
Whatâ€™s not understandable is the failure of lawmakers to do something about this issue, which remains unresolved after years of discourse.
Despite all of the denials from the legal community, malpractice awards are too high. If checks are not put on these awards some other measures must be put in place to strip down the cost of a legal process that keeps making insurance more costly.
The evidence of costly malpractice settlements is overwhelming. According to published reports, medical malpractice settlements in Maryland have nearly doubled in less than five years. The average settlement has risen from $216,727 in 2000 to $410,546 this year. One of the top insurers in that state paid out $56 million in 2002, compared to $93 million last year.
Our medical and legal communities should reflect some of our sharpest minds. Those professions typically boast visionary leaders. But they are foot-dragging on this issue, as are the lawmakers that are supposed to take care of these crises before they happen. In the meantime the quality of care in what is perhaps our most valued medical practice is taking a major hit.