Emergency Room Services Cut As Doctors Protest Insurance Costs
MIAMI (AP) _ One hospital closed its emergency room and at least seven of Dade County’s 40 hospitals cut back emergency services Thursday as some doctors stayed away to protest high malpractice insurance costs.
″As of yet, there is no real crisis,″ said Hialeah Fire Chief Andrew Frosch, duty officer at the Dade County Office of Emergency Management, which was staffed for the holidays as a precaution against a medical emergency.
Hialeah Hospital closed its emergency room at 7 p.m. New Year’s Eve. A few other hospitals had already limited the types of emergency patients they would serve, and others announced curtailments late Wednesday.
In addition, seven hospitals said their services would be limited; most said they could not accept head and chest wound victims because thoracic and neurological surgeons were not available.
″There’s close to 40 hospitals in Dade County,″ said Lynn Aspinall, a spokeswoman for the Metro-Dade Fire Department. ″That does not a crisis make, when a couple of hospitals close their emergency rooms.″
She said the affected hospitals handle only a fraction of Dade’s emergency cases.
Officials say the protest apparently is not an organized effort, and the number of hospitals and doctors affected was constantly changing. ″The number fluctuates with the availability of doctors and beds,″ Frosch said.
″One of our major trauma-care units was down for trauma for a few hours, when a doctor had to check out, and they came back up a few hours later,″ he said.
Florida’s physicians are upset by 25 to 40 percent hikes in their insurance rates and by a law which took effect New Year’s Day mandating new coverage minimums.
The Florida Medical Association estimates neurosurgeons in Dade and Broward counties will pay a record $143,000 to $176,366 a year for policies that pay a maximum of $1 million a claim and $3 million total a year.
Under the Malpractice Reform Act that took effect Thursday, Florida’s 29,600 licensed doctors must either carry malpractice insurance - $250,000 coverage for those who treat hospital patients and $100,000 for those who don’t - or must inform patients of their decision to do without.
Under the new law, if an uninsured doctor loses a malpractice case and cannot pay the award, that physician could be stopped from practicing for up to five years.
Meanwhile, a Tort Reform Act passed in 1986 required insurance rates to be rolled back 40 percent, but insurers blocked that with a court challenge while announcing premium hikes for 1987.
Members of the Dade County legislative delegation have scheduled hearings in Miami Jan. 12 on the insurance crisis.
State Rep. Art Simon, an author of recent malpractice legislation, said the doctors ″seem to feel that if they withhold their services, the Legislature will wave a magic wand to solve the problem of rising insurance rates.″
He said doctors have good reason to complain about skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates, but said the answer ″is not to withhold their services from people desperately in need of medical care.″