Make Florida a Safer Place for Patients

-by Debra Henley, FJA Executive Director

In his My View, Dr. Miguel Machado of the Florida Medical Association stated that they are "working to protect the trusted relationship between patients and physicians."

Despite the fact, somewhat ironically based on his comments, that his association's number one goal is to destroy physicianpatient confidentiality by allowing insurance companies to pry into your personal medical records, I agree with him that Florida physicians pay too much — way too much — for insurance. The question of why is for the insurance industry to answer.

Claims are down in Florida and across the nation, and there is no justification for exorbitant malpractice insurance rates or profits. In fact, the medical malpractice insurance industry has seen a 4,000-percent increase in profits over the last decade. That's right; 4,000 percent.

But using malpractice rates as a justification, Machado wants the Legislature to extend "sovereign immunity" to emergency room doctors. In layman's term, this essentially means emergency room doctors would be treated like state employees, and we, the taxpayers, would be on the hook for any medical malpractice. Fortunately, it appears the Legislature is wise enough to say no to this.

Here are some facts:

Out of 8.1 million visits to the ER in Florida last year, there were only 318 closed claims, which is down from the previous year. That is 0.0039 percent. In total, medical malpractice cases make up a fraction of all civil lawsuits, considerably under 1 percent. Why? Current Florida law makes it exceptionally hard to bring a medical malpractice claim. Despite the spin — and out-of-control insurance rates — there are no "out of control lawsuits" from which doctors must be protected.

But even with these numbers, the Florida Medical Association spent several weeks pushing another draconian proposal that would allow doctors to require patients to agree to mandatory arbitration in medical malpractice cases. If you don't agree to arbitration, the doctor won't see you. If you do, and are a victim of malpractice, you will be forced to go to an arbitration judge of the doctor's choosing, with the outcome pre-determined.

While it appears the arbitration provisions are dead for this year, the FMA and the insurance industry continue to a push proposals that would allow insurance companies to pry into all of your medical records and talk to all of your doctors about your confidential medical history, without your permission or without your knowing. They also are asking the Legislature to make it harder for you to hold doctors accountable if they fail to diagnose an illness because they do not order appropriate tests.

It boils down to this: Malpractice cases in Florida are down significantly, some 34 percent over the last five years. Yet insurance premiums have not been reduced to reflect that. The insurance industry is the problem, and it is time the Florida Medical Association stopped being its front man.

As for physicians retiring and not being replaced — that is a phenomenon facing all professions as baby boomers join the ranks of the retired. But instead of seeing it coming, the American Medical Association urged Congress to cut residency slots, beginning in 1995, because it wrongly predicted a glut of doctors. Thanks for that brilliant move, guys! By the way, the No. 1 reason given for physicians retiring was "It's time to retire" — not medical liability.

Even so, the FMA would have Florida's taxpayers pick up the tab for the medical errors. Whatever happened to personal responsibility and accountability?

One last point bears repeating. Over the decade, the medical malpractice insurance companies have seen their profits grow by some 4,000 percent. To this end, I agree with Dr. Machado that insurance companies are taking advantage of doctors and making huge profits off their backs. If he and the FMA are ready to take on these greedy insurance companies, he will have an ally in me. But making taxpayers pay for medical errors, while insurance companies get off scot-free, well, that is just wrong.


This Op-Ed ran in the Tallahassee Democrat on 3/3/2012.
here to view it.