Medical matters that could affect your next trip to the doctor.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really cannot do a good job with 30 patience a day. I can’t — boom, boom, boom. It is a revolving door.

WOLF BLITZER (Host): Up next, the problem is facing primary care physicians and how they play a role on what you pay.


BLITZER (voice-over): Earlier we asked — where did the nation’s first challenge to medical malpractice insurance rate hikes take place? The answer, California. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California nonprofit organization, made the first ever consumer group challenge earlier this year.

BLITZER: Yesterday we looked at the growing number of working Americans without health insurance. But doctors are also being swept up in the country’s health care crisis as they face skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums. That’s leaving some physicians to take some drastic measures, and patients, predictably, are feeling the fallout. CNN’s Lisa Leiter is joining us now live with the story from Chicago — Lisa.

LISA LEITER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, there is no question that doctors’ chief complain is the rising cost of insurance. But they’re also worried about the fact that they have too many patients and too much paperwork. And they’re really just sick of the system.

DR. MARK MACUMBER: Have you ever heard of diverticulatis (ph) or diverticular (ph) disease? OK. What it is is…

LEITER (voice-over): Dr. Mark Macumber never thought of himself as a radical, but now the family practitioner is going where few doctors dare to tread. He’s working without malpractice insurance.

MACUMBER: It hadn’t even entered my mind that you can still see patients without malpractice. I’ve grown up in this era where the issue isn’t if you’re going to get sued, it’s when you’re going to get sued.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this the patient’s name?

LEITER: This summer, Macumber’s premiums jumped to $40,000 a year, four times what he was paying and more than he could afford. So he felt he had no choice, even though one successful malpractice suit against him could mean financial ruin.

MACUMBER: What I’m doing is risky, but it fits what I feel I need to do professionally.

LEITER: A recent survey showed physicians’ malpractice insurance premiums are skyrocketing. They rose an average of 36 percent between 2001 and 2002, and by a stunning 53 percent this year, mostly because of ballooning legal settlements. The president of the American Medical Association calls the problem a full-blown crisis.

DR. DONALD PALMISANO, PRES., AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Physicians are retiring before their time. They’re limiting their practice because they want to stay in practice. They just can’t afford to pay $249,000 in Miami this year to be able to deliver babies.

LEITER: Annual insurance rates vary widely depending on the city and the specialty. In Chicago, for example, internists pay $35,000, general surgeons, $92,000, and OB/GYNs, $140,000.
(on camera): With overhead like that, doctors are forced to see more and more patients to stay in business. Dropping liability insurance is a risk most doctors are not willing to take, so they are finding other ways to make ends meet.

DR. JUNG KIM, FAMILY PRACTITIONER: Take one now, take one in the evening and one a day.

LEITER (voice-over): Dr. Jung Kim recently overhauled his practice. He now charges his patients a fee of $1,000 a year, on top of payments for office visits. As a result, he needs fewer patients to make money, and that means for them less time in the waiting room and more time in the examining room.

Dr. Kim now sees just 10 patients a day instead of 30.

KIM: I really cannot do a good job with 30 patients a day. I mean, I can’t boom, boom, boom. It’s a revolving door.

LEITER: With no major reforms in sight, doctors will continue to find ways to combat that frustration. Both Dr. Kim and Dr. Macumber say they now can focus on care instead of costs.

LEITER: And there is yet another solution for doctors trying to cut their costs. Some are moving to areas where the malpractice insurance rates are not so high. Here in Chicago, some doctors have moved to rural areas in the state of Illinois or to nearby states like Wisconsin or Indiana, where the malpractice rates are much lower — Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa Leiter, thanks very much for that report.

Consumer Watchdog
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