Physician's Criminal Past, Not Innocent Victims, Cause of Malpractice Premium Increases
As West Virginia physicians strike, the doctor that represented them before Congress in July was convicted of cocaine abuse. According to West Virginia Board of Medicine records, Dr. Sam Roberts had his license suspended and received five years probation when he plead guilty in 1987 to five criminal counts of cocaine possession, revealed the non-profit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).
FTCR called for an apology to Congress, and an adjustment of the record, for Roberts' misrepresentation of his history of substance abuse. Roberts misled Congress about the malpractice situation in West Virginia by not volunteering information about his license suspension and its effect on his malpractice premiums. When pressed he insisted that it was "a personal matter that's really not germane to this issue." Roberts' malpractice insurer today confirmed that any disciplinary action with the state medical board can affect rates. Substance abuse is one of the five most serious offenses for which doctors are disciplined by state medical boards.
"Bad doctors -- who deserve high rates because they are the highest risks -- are those yelling the loudest about rising malpractice premiums," stated FTCR consumer advocate Carmen Balber. "Bad practices by doctors and insurers, not innocent victims, are to blame for high premiums. Innocent malpractice victims should not pay for doctors' errors with a draconian cap on compensation for their pain and suffering."
In a further indictment of striking doctors in West Virginia, the Associated Press reported last week that nine of forty-three strikers have cost their malpractice insurers at least $6.3 million in claims. FTCR noted that there appears to be a pattern in West Virginia of doctors who have victimized the public through negligence and criminal conduct claiming that they are the victims.
"Physicians who complain about rising malpractice premiums should be prepared to come forward with details of every malpractice claim, board censure and licensing action taken against him or her," said Balber. "Only by delving deeper into claims of skyrocketing costs can we root out the true culprits - greedy insurers and a few bad doctors."
Dr. Roberts represented two physician coalitions before Congress last summer and testified in support of caps on compensation for innocent victims of medical malpractice that are sought by the West Virginia strikers. FTCR commented that Congress and the West Virginia legislature should not limit victims' rights if a substance abuser is the best advocate West Virginia doctors can produce for their cause.
"If pleading guilty to substance abuse did not raise Roberts' rates, there is something wrong with the pricing structure," noted Balber.
California Congressman Henry Waxman, member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health to which Dr. Roberts testified, stated: "I am troubled that Dr. Roberts would put himself forward as a victim of the malpractice system in West Virginia but choose to give the Committee a selective account of his personal history. His reported conviction of five counts of cocaine possession is anything but a private matter, and it is clearly relevant to any assessment of his risk as an insured physician. I don't know if his conviction caused his rates to rise, but his testimony was misleading."
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