Nevada docs say 76 specialists closed practices

CARSON CITY, Nev. -- The largest Nevada doctors group has counted 76 medical specialists who have closed their practices since last March due to sky-high malpractice insurance premiums.

Another 126 doctors -- including surgeons and hard-hit obstetricians -- told the Nevada State Medical Association they are either "seriously considering" or are in the process of closing down.

"These are the ones who have made a decision, either conscious or unconscious, that they're giving up on Nevada," association executive director Larry Matheis said Tuesday.

Matheis surveyed association members by fax last week, updating an occasional member survey of more than 1,500 doctors.

The numbers of doctors closing or limiting their practices have steadily climbed since the state declared a malpractice insurance crisis early last year.

They include 19 obstetrician-gynecologists who have closed their practices and another nine who said they stopped delivering babies, Matheis said.

He said the statistics boost his group's push for new legislation that doctors hope would help bring premiums down. Several insurers have raised premiums in recent months.

Doctors successfully circulated a petition calling for the state to strip away exceptions to a $350,000 cap on jury awards for malpractice pain-and-suffering damages. That cap was approved by legislators in a special session last year and took effect in October.

Consumer groups and some Democrats have such plans in other states and a federal law proposed by President Bush, saying jury award caps hurt only victims and have not held premiums down.

Matheis said he hopes stripping away exemptions would keep doctors in the state, "but it would depend on whether they see any real relief as a result."

Insurers have said they are unsure whether the state's current law would stand up to court challenges. The new law would face the same problem.

The Legislature must consider the new plan from the doctors within the first 40 days of the session. If lawmakers don't act or reject the bill, it will appear as a voter ballot initiative in the 2004 elections.


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