Malpractice insurance taking toll on LI docs

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dr. Scott Berlin is giving up the thing he has loved doing for the past 13 years: delivering babies. The obstetrician-gynecologist from Islip said he can't afford it.
Berlin has been pushed over the edge by a 14 percent increase in medical malpractice premiums announced July 2 by the state Insurance Department. Next year, he would be paying $196,642 for insurance.
Because he is reimbursed less than $3,000 from managed care companies for prenatal care and delivery, Berlin said he simply can't make ends meet. Two years ago, his father, Dr. Melvin Berlin, with whom he shares a practice, made the same decision -- for the same reason.
"It's just become so that you can't do enough deliveries to make it worthwhile," Scott Berlin said. Instead, beginning in December, he will practice only gynecology and work part-time at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. By no longer delivering babies, his insurance will go down 75 percent.
Although it's not clear how many other Long Island doctors will alter their practices, Berlin is not the only one feeling the pinch. "We love our profession, but it is killing us," said Dr. Bernardita Lazo, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Massapequa. She said she spends close to a third of her earnings on malpractice insurance.

The Center for Justice & Democracy, a national consumer group that tracks civil justice and insurance issues, agrees that the root cause is medical errors -- not juries. In data released this month, the center found that since the mid-1980s, payouts in New York from settlements or verdicts have tracked the rate of inflation in medical costs.
"Tort law is not responsible for this," said Joanne Doroshow, the center's director, referring to the malpractice rate hike.
But that is little consolation to Dr. Jeffrey Wanerman, an obstetrician-gynecologist who practices in Amityville and West Islip. He said his income has been falling since 1995 and this latest malpractice rate increase may put him out of business unless he makes changes. He is thinking of moving to a smaller house and even considering another career.
He has little hope that a task force will solve the problem.
"It may make sense, but it's way, way too late," he said. "We need a radical solution."
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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