Malpractice insurance costs must be addressed

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board

ISSUE: Fewer doctors available to deliver babies.

Doctor shortages are getting worse in South Florida due to a double-whammy, the exorbitant cost of malpractice insurance and low medical reimbursements.

Obstetricians and gynecologists are disappearing, leaving expectant mothers in a lurch at a time when their health and the safe delivery of their unborn children are at stake. The problem has gotten so bad that some gynecologists have stopped delivering babies altogether to avoid any mishap that could lead to a lawsuit.

Their fear is understandable. But it leaves fewer doctors to care for more patients, who must wait longer for appointments.

The situation is just the latest evidence that Florida continues to have a medical crisis on its hands, even if the debate over malpractice reforms has quieted in Tallahassee. Four years ago, voters approved three malpractice-related constitutional amendments, including one that limited the amount of money attorneys can collect from jury awards, but it obviously didn’t fix the problem.

Palm Beach County officials have projected 30 percent fewer ob-gyns at the same time that the need for such services will grow 7 percent over three years, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. No numbers were available for Broward, but experts say the county is on the same trajectory. South Florida has also grappled on-and-off with a shortage of neurosurgeons, pediatric orthopedic surgeons and other specialists as these specialty physicians also leave the state.

Such shortages harm the quality of health care available, forcing longer waits for appointments and erosion of patient-doctor relationships. It’s time for doctors, lawmakers, attorneys and insurance companies to drop their posturing and bitter rhetoric and compromise on solutions that address doctors’ legal and financial concerns, and protect patient care in the process.

BOTTOM LINE: Doctors, lawmakers, attorneys and insurance companies must come together.

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