An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 New Jersey physicians walked off their jobs today to protest malpractice insurance rates, making it by far the largest of a scattering of physician walkouts nationwide in recent months.
Meanwhile, about 100 doctors in St. Augustine, Fla, plan to leave their practices Wednesday to attend a "study day" at Flagler Hospital about malpractice problems, according to officials at the hospital.
The New Jersey physicians are holding low-key demonstrations today in deference to the Columbia disaster but have gone ahead with longstanding plans to partially or completely shut down their offices, according to Joan Basic, executive director of the Bergen County Medical Society.
The 5,000 to 10,000 number is an estimate because, to avoid the possibility antitrust allegations, no one has an exact count of physicians participating in the walkout, Basic says.
"Some of the physicians will be out for one to two days, some for a few weeks, and some plan to stay out until the problem is resolved," she says.
The doctors want to the state to pass a cap on noneconomic damages and other reforms in hopes of lowering premiums, but they face stiff opposition in the legislature from trial attorneys and some consumer groups.
Basic says physicians are gathering at meetings in each New Jersey county. Bergen County physicians are gathering at a blood bank in Paramus to give blood and hear speeches by Robert Rigolosi, M.D., president of the Medical Society of New Jersey, and Ruth Schulze, M.D., president of the county society, she says.
On Tuesday, Basic says, physicians from throughout the state will be bused to the state capital in Trenton to demonstrate for malpractice reforms.
Later in the week many of the doctors plan to attend legislative committee meetings, Basic adds.