Opinion: Malpractice relief

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I am writing to urge the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to agree with the Senate Amendments to House Bill 2648 and continue the M-Care Abatement program that provides malpractice insurance relief to physicians for another two years.

This relief has helped retain physicians who may have left Pennsylvania, curtailed services or retired sooner, and has presented a small incentive for recruitment of others from out-of-state. However, M-Care abatement was not extended this year, a victim of the stalemate in Harrisburg over health insurance expansion.

Pennsylvania already has a serious shortage of physicians, a situation that will be exacerbated over the next decade when many physicians retire and medical malpractice premiums skyrocket. Failure to continue the M-Care abatement will increase malpractice insurance premiums to the level that will threaten patient access to primary care physicians and a wide variety of surgical specialties.

Geisinger has been successful in recruiting highly qualified physicians over the past several years, but this is an anomaly based upon our unusual integrated delivery system model. Pennsylvania lost nearly 900 physicians who provided direct patient care from 2004 to 2006. Physicians’ medical malpractice insurance premiums will increase substantially without M-Care abatement — which affects all Pennsylvanians and will limit their access to doctors who specialize in emergency medicine, family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics/ gynecology and pediatrics. We see this effect in various locations throughout our regional, primarily rural service area, where Geisinger has become the provider of last resort or has had to alter its service delivery.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has four session days scheduled this month, which is sufficient time to continue the abatement program. Doing so would help us avoid an even greater health care access problem for the people of Pennsylvania.

Please urge the state House of Representatives to do the right thing by addressing this access to care issue, and to continue working to reach a compromise on expanded coverage for the uninsured.

Frank J. Trembulak, Danville

n Frank J. Trembulak is executive vice president and COO of Geisinger Health System.

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