Twelve years ago, when I moved to Las Vegas, most residents believed that in order to see a qualified specialist, they had to travel out of state. However, since then, Southern Nevada has seen an influx of access to and availability of outstanding medical care because we have recruited the most talented, specialized, board-certified physicians from across the country. As chief operating officer for Desert Radiologists, I know it has been our corporate philosophy to recruit the most specialized and talented radiologists. Our staff now includes a pediatric radiologist, as well as numerous neuroradiologists, interventional, body imaging and musculoskeletal radiologists.
But how does this medical liability crisis affect me on a personal level? First of all, my wife had a high-risk pregnancy. If it hadn’t have been for Dr. Paul Chao, her OB/GYN, and the numerous perinatologists we consulted during her pregnancy, who knows what the outcome would have been? When my daughter required surgery for strabismus, we were able to consult with and receive the needed surgeries from Dr. Grace Shin, a pediatric ophthalmologist. In addition, since my daughter has also been diagnosed with a rare syndrome called FAPA, we were able to obtain an accurate diagnosis and subsequent care from Dr. Jonathan Bernstein, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist. When my son was born with a very rare condition that required surgery immediately after he was born, it was Dr. George Ganeson, a surgical pediatric urologist, who performed the surgery. These are some of the numerous specialists in the Las Vegas Valley that my family has been fortunate enough to consult. Who knows what our outcomes would have been if these specialists, as well as others, were not available?
Physicians go into the practice of medicine specifically to help people. Let me ask you – who in their right mind would go through 10 to 16 years of intense medical training if they were not dedicated to helping and assisting others? They are now faced with a crisis that not only affects their livelihood, but patients’ survival as well. Insurance companies are unwilling to insure them, or only willing to insure them for markedly increased rates. As of the end of June, 139 physicians had already left Nevada, with 87 more planning on moving out by the end of the year. You will see a large exodus of physicians throughout the summer and through the end of this year if this crisis is not resolved. Physicians right now are unable to receive malpractice insurance due to the St. Paul Insurance Company refusing to renew their medical malpractice policies in Nevada. The new insurance companies that have attempted to enter the market have quadrupled their rates, and tail coverage is outrageous (the law of supply and demand).
Physicians who are specialized in performing rare procedures now need to decide whether they are willing to perform those risky, life-saving procedures because the insurance companies will not indemnify them. Do they risk their professional careers and economic safety by performing a procedure for which they may be sued? Physicians have now been put in the precarious position to have to choose between life and liability. The decision is not a hard one to make, when an insurance company will only insure up to $1 million and a judgment can be awarded for $9 million, with the physician personally responsible for the additional $8 million.
In very simple terms, I would like to explain a little about tort reform and the non-economic cap. If an individual making $35,000 a year has health insurance and benefits and legitimately suffers liability at the hands of a physician, he will receive his salary for the rest of his life if he is unable to resume his livelihood due to the injuries he sustained. He will be covered financially, and health benefits will continue throughout the duration of his life. I do support legitimate liability cases; I believe if there is blatant malpractice, an individual should be awarded damages. The $250,000 cap only comes into play on non-economic damages. If a $250,000 cap is initiated and passed through legislation, insurance companies will come back into the market to support our physicians and cover them, and the physician will no longer be afraid to perform those procedures that could save a life.
I implore you to call your senators, congressmen and state legislators and ask them where they stand on tort reform. Remember, a new election is right around the corner. This issue is not about lawyers versus doctors – it is about our families. It is about healthcare accessibility. It is about the quality of medical care and quality of life. Stand up for your, and your loved ones’, rights to have a happy and healthy life.