Monday, January 24, 2005

Practicing without malpractice insurance

Imagine practicing with no malpractice insurance coverage. Imagine telling patients, "We don't bill insurance companies here." This doctor in Illinois has been doing exactly that, for a year (registration required, sorry):
“The most surprising and rewarding thing is the response I get from the patients,” said Dr. Macumber, a family physician in Berwyn, Ill., and Chicago.

It's been a year full of surprises for Dr. Macumber since he opened his family medicine practice in September 2003 in Berwyn with no medical liability coverage (CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY NEWS, Feb. 2004, p. 112). Today, he is breaking even and has opened a second location in Chicago.

When he started, he knew he couldn't afford the $40,000 liability premium he would have to pay; he also wanted to draw attention to the skyrocketing malpractice rates many physicians must pay. That's still the case, he said, but his experience has also driven the issue of access to health care to the top of his priority list, he said.

“It started out about medical malpractice, but it's really about access,” Dr. Macumber said.

Since most patients' insurance companies require physicians to carry liability insurance, he doesn't bill insurance companies and, instead, offers his services for a reduced fee—$40 for an average office visit. Patients with insurance can still submit claims to be reimbursed by their insurance company, but Dr. Macumber won't deal with the paperwork.

About 25%-33% of his patients have health insurance, but most are uninsured. Some patients come to see him because they support what he's doing; others have said they want continuity and are sick of changing doctors every year. For still others, it's cheaper to see him at $40 a visit than it is to pay the copayments or coinsurance associated with their health plans.

Some patients come to him because they want the confidentiality he provides by not filing information with insurance companies.

And for Dr. Macumber, cutting out insurance companies means more time, more money, and less aggravation. “I'm so relieved I don't have to deal with that at all,” he said.

Because he does not have to spend time dealing with insurance companies, Dr. Macumber said he can afford to spend 20-40 minutes with each patient.

Not accepting insurance also means that he can charge whatever he wants, including giving someone a break on his or her bill, or even bartering for care. He can also choose to charge for telephone calls, though he hasn't done that yet. He already charges patients about $10 to fill out paperwork.

What does Dr. Macumber think about tort reform? Sounds like he's been reading Curious JD:
Dr. Macumber said he got to really see how destructive the medical liability compensation system had gotten when he decided to practice without it. But he sees traditional tort reform strategies, such as damage caps, as a gut response from physicians who feel angry and cornered.

“Tort reform is nice, but the system itself is flawed on so many levels,” he said.

The medical liability system is a barrier to improving quality and to reporting and learning from our mistakes, he said. Dr. Macumber said that he believes that the answer is a set of comprehensive reforms that address the current system's economic, practice, and ethical problems.

Thanks to Elsevier's Clinical Psychiatry News.

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