Common sense dictates that patients with critical injuries such as head traumas or compound fractures, and women about to give birth, have ready access to a physician. However, as you point out ("Lawyers vs. Patients," Review & Outlook, May 1), patients across the country are losing access to their physicians because an out-of-control legal system, along with skyrocketing liability premiums, is forcing physicians to discontinue high-risk medical procedures, retire early and move to other states.
We strongly agree that "the solution is not exactly brain surgery," which is why the American Medical Association and numerous state and national medical specialty societies strongly support federal legislation recently introduced -- the Health Act of 2002. This bill would establish the types of landmark tort protections that have kept California's market stable for more than 25 years.
Physicians and medical students in Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Mississippi and at least a half-dozen other states are increasingly reluctant to practice in these crisis states for fear of becoming the next trial attorney's target. In fact, outsized jury awards and liability premiums already have forced trauma centers and maternity wards to close or cut back their services in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona. Ob/Gyns in Las Vegas know that simply by moving across the border into California, their professional liability premiums will drop more than $100,000. Same physician, same skills, different legal climate.
The bottom line is that unless lawmakers act now, more patients will be forced to spend hours in cars and ambulances not knowing where or if they will be able to find a physician -- unless, of course, they're lucky enough to live in a state with strong tort reforms.
Richard F. Corlin, M.D.
American Medical Association