Oregon Senate Votes To Help Rural Doctors Pay Their Malpractice Insurance

Christopher Rizo – AHN Staff Writer

The Oregon state Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday to improve a program to keep the skyrocketing cost of malpractice insurance from driving doctors from small towns.

With a 29-1 vote, lawmakers agreed that a 2003 law intended to lure more doctors to rural parts of Oregon needed to be changed.

Lawmakers introduced legislation to change the program that partially reimburses physicians for their medical malpractice premiums after highly publicized reports that some of the program’s beneficiaries were wealthy specialists with thriving practices, not physicians struggling in distinctly remote areas of the state providing essential care.

Among them: Dr. Scott Young, a plastic surgeon, who lives in an 11,000-square-foot mansion surrounded by 1,700 acres just north of the upscale southern Oregon town of Ashland.

“This is a good program and there were some unintended consequences; we’ve resolved those,” Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland) said in an interview before the Senate vote. “The purpose (of the program) is not to lose primary care and obstetrics in rural and underserved areas of Oregon.”

State Sen. Roger Beyer (R-Molalla) was the only no vote, objecting to businesses being assessed a fee so that doctors can be reimbursed for some of their operating expenses.

If approved, physicians who work in “urbanized” areas of the state, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, would no longer be eligible for the program, with the exception of obstetricians, nurse practitioners and certified midwives in Ashland.

Bates, a family physician, was able to protect them in the legislation because of the “vital service” he said they provide there, particularly to low-income mothers.

Obstetricians in rural areas of Oregon and Ashland would continue being reimbursed for 80 percent of their malpractice costs while other specialists would receive 15 percent of their premiums back rather than the 40 percent they receive currently, if the proposed changes are approved.

General practitioners who do not deliver babies would receive a 40 percent subsidy while general practitioners who do obstetrics work would receive a 60 percent rebate from the state.

Administered by the state-chartered insurance company SAIF Corp., the program is funded by an assessment that employers pay for their workers’ compensation insurance.

Set to end in four years, the program requires that its beneficiaries provide care to the uninsured and those on Medicaid and Medicare, the federal insurance programs.

Senate Bill 183 now moves to the state House of Representatives for consideration.
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