Fed bill fails, TN still has critical shortage of OB-GYN's

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Some medical professionals are saying there is a critical shortage of Obstetricians in rural areas of the state.

Currently, more than 30 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have inadequate access to obstetrical care while 19 counties have no access to it at all.

Its part of a recent trend in several states that has seen many OB-GYN’s leave their practices due to the extraordinarily high cost of medical malpractice insurance.

One possible solution is “The Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Rural Access to Care� amendment, which failed in the US Senate on Wednesday night.

Dr. Ted Tsaltas is a Knoxville area OB-GYN that pays a yearly malpractice premium that far exceeds what the average, two income Tennessee family earns.

At $57,000 to $60,000 an OB-GYN pays a malpractice premium that’s nearly six times as much as a physician practicing only gynecology.

“There is no question that we are considered one of the high risk specialties and that our premium is correspondingly higher,” Dr. Tsaltas said.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, co-sponsored the amendment that would have placed caps on non-economic damages for OB-GYN’s facing lawsuits in rural counties across the country.

Sen. Corker says the outrageous cost of medical malpractice insurance has driven many OB-GYN’s out of Tennessee.

“It’s because of the fact that malpractice insurance costs so much in that particular field of care, and therefore, they’ve been driven out, if you will, of the rural counties that exist in the state of Tennessee,â€? said Sen. Corker.

The Tennessee Medical Association classifies 91 of Tennessee’s 95 counties as rural.

TMA says the number of obstetricians in those 91 rural counties dropped from 179 in 1997 to 103 in 2003.

“We have young mothers-to-be in our state that lack the ability to access O.B. care because of the fact that malpractice insurance costs so much,â€? Sen. Corker said.

With the amendment failing in a 41-53 vote in the senate, Doctor Ted Tsaltas says the problem of access to obstetrical care in rural areas may only get worse.

“Am I surprised that we have 15 counties in Tennessee with absolutely no obstetrical services?â€? Dr. Tsaltas asked. “Sadly, no, I’m not surprised.”

The “Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Rural Access to Care� amendment was tacked on to the farm bill introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH.

It is still undetermined if, when or in what form Sen. Gregg may reintroduce the bill.
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