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No Sunshine for Florida Neurosurgeons

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A hostile legal climate is creating a severe shortage of neurosurgeons in Florida, according to recent news reports, where malpractice insurance premiums are soaring. Neurosurgeons pay the highest malpractice rates, yet reimbursements for their services remain low.

“Florida will be over when people stop moving here because they cannot get access to healthcare.”— Karl Altenburger, MD; Florida Medical Association president

A hostile legal climate is creating a severe shortage of neurosurgeons in Florida, according to recent news reports, where malpractice insurance premiums are soaring. Neurosurgeons pay the highest malpractice rates, yet reimbursements for their services remain low. The problem is especially acute in emergency rooms, where fewer neurosurgeons are willing to serve on call, since they consider it too risky.

In Palm Beach County, just 22 neurosurgeons serve a population of 1.3 million and only 13 of them serve on call. According to a Palm Beach County Medical Society survey, retirement and a lack of new doctors will reduce those numbers to 14 practicing neurosurgeons in three years, with just seven working on call.

Florida’s legislative climate is also not good for a doctor’s financial health. Four years ago, voters approved a constitutional amendment that revokes a doctor’s medical license after three malpractice judgments. And although the state has passed a malpractice reform law that caps pain and suffering awards to $500,000, doctors in the state say it doesn’t go far enough. The awards cap is higher than those allowed other states with similar laws, they claim, and awards up to $1.5 million are allowed if the patient dies.

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Overall, Florida healthcare faces a “perfect storm,” says Karl Altenburger, MD, president of the Florida Medical Association, in a recent interview. “Many hospitals can't recruit the doctors they need,” he says. “Due to a high senior population, Florida's situation is going to be more severe than anywhere else in the country in five to 10 years.”

25%—Percentage of Florida physicians who are over age 60.(Florida State University, 2008)


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