Study shows no exodus of Pa. doctors

Increasing malpractice costs seem to have little effect on number practicing.

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Spiraling-malpractice insurance costs appeared to have little effect on the number of doctors in high-risk specialties practicing in Pennsylvania over a 10-year period, according to a new study.

Opponents of efforts to limit pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits said Wednesday the study refutes claims that insurance costs have forced doctors to leave Pennsylvania. A doctors’ lobbying group questioned the findings.

Researchers based their conclusion on an analysis of more than 47,000 doctors, including medical residents, who participated in the state’s medical-malpractice insurance fund known as Mcare from 1993 to 2002. The study was published online Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs.

The study found that an average of 16 percent of doctors in high-risk specialties such as urology, neurosurgery and orthopedics stopped practicing in Pennsylvania each year from 1999 through 2002, which researchers defined as the “crisis period� after insurance rates spiked. The number of high-risk specialists leaving the state from 1993 through 1998 averaged 15 percent a year, by comparison.

“What this study shows is, at least on a statewide level, that (the malpractice crisis) doesn’t seem to have resulted in noticeable decreases in the number of physicians available in particular specialties,� said researcher Bill Sage, vice provost for health affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers found that the total number of doctors practicing across all specialties in Pennsylvania increased by nearly 6 percent between 1993 and 2002 — from 181 to 191 per 100,000 residents — and the total number of high-risk specialists grew by 3.3 percent over the same period, from 138 to 142 per 100,000 residents.
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