Washington Mayor Anthony Williams helped launch a new effort Wednesday to stop doctors from moving out of the nation's capital, warning that the district has some of the highest medical malpractice insurance rates in the country.
Williams joined representatives of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and an insurance industry group in unveiling a monthlong "Keep Your Doctor in D.C." campaign. The medical society said 28% of the city's doctors would consider relocating, while 31% would consider closing their practices because of insurance issues.
The ads are part of a five-year campaign by the industry group America's Health Insurance Plans, aimed at reforming the medical liability system. The first two ads will appear on mass transit and in local publications. Their messages suggest that premiums and related costs could drive doctors out of the district and into suburbs.
"If I've got to take 15 different bus connections to get to healthcare in Bethesda, that seriously harms our city," Williams said.
The mayor has introduced legislation that would ensure patients receive the bulk of monetary damages in lawsuits; require hospitals to report medical errors; and require an independent physician review of claims before lawsuits can proceed. The legislation would also protect volunteer healthcare providers from lawsuits stemming from uncompensated work at clinics.
"Five- and six-figure annual medical liability premiums have become the norm in Washington, D.C.," said Damian Alagia, M.D., a practicing obstetrician and president of the medical society. He said his premiums have tripled to $150,000 annually since 2001, even though he has never been sued.
"Doctors in high-risk specialties such as mine are leaving the district." Alagia said. He added that others are getting out of insured provider networks because fees don't produce enough revenue to cover insurance premiums.
A spokesman for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America said insurance companies were raising premiums to fatten their profit margins while medical malpractice claims payouts have remained constant.
"It's a shame that the mayor of the nation's capital would stand up and support the insurance industry over the people of the District of Columbia," said Carlton Carl of the trial lawyers association.