Video: Doctors flee rising premiums

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/21/2004 7:29:59 PM ET 2004-04-21T23:29:59

For Talia Mashiach, Dr. Barbara Robinson is more than just her OB/GYN, she is a trusted friend who’s safely guided her through three difficult pregnancies. But despite their bond, the doctor probably won’t deliver her fourth child due in mid-July.

“We feel helpless, what can we do?” Mashiach asks.

After 17 years of delivering babies and watching them grow up, Robinson has made the gut-wrenching decision to move away. “It’s just so much fun to follow them all these years, and then … poof! I’m gone!”

Adds Mashiach, “It will be very difficult for me to have somebody else just come in (during the delivery). It’s a complete stranger whom I haven’t seen ever.”

By July 1 Robinson and her two colleagues will have left their 6,000-patient practice in Niles, Ill., and moved nearly an hour away, across state lines to Kenosha, Wis. The doctors say they can no longer afford to pay skyrocketing malpractice premiums. Their combined insurance has leapt 48 percent to $510,000 a year. In Wisconsin they’ll pay just $50,000.

Health-care experts cite multi-million dollar lawsuits, high medical costs, a move by insurance companies to recoup investment losses, and the failure of insurance regulation in many states as primary reasons for the spike in malpractice premiums.

As a result, doctors are making similar decisions to move throughout the country, especially in states with weak insurance regulation.

“More and more of them are actually leaving, especially in areas where they can stay in the same metropolitan area, but cross state lines,” according to David Dranove of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

The American Medical Association says Illinois is one of 19 states facing a full-blown crisis over malpractice premiums. Hardest hit?  High-risk specialists, like OB/GYNs.

To avoid leaving Illinois, Robinson and her colleagues struggled with cutting services and increasing patient load but, she says, “Well, we’re not volume-type people.”

As her due date looms, Mashiach is lobbying her insurance company to pay for continued care by Robinson in Wisconsin. “I know that I’m never going to be able to find someone to replace her.”

“Do I feel bad? I feel terrible,” Robinson adds.  “Do I wish it weren’t happening? Absolutely I do.”

The situation illustrates a priceless doctor/patient relationship coming apart because of the high cost of malpractice insurance.

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