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Stop Blaming the Attorneys! Doctors are Closing Their Doors due to Financial Strain

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Well isn't this interesting? A recent article on CNNMoney.com points to a growing crisis in our health care system: private practitioners shutting their doors because they simply cannot afford to stay open. Before you jump to the conclusion that out-of-control medical malpractice suits are to blame, think again. Not a single doctor interviewed in the article pointed to frivolous lawsuits or relentless trial attorneys as driving them out of practice. The reason is much more basic: The current condition of the health care system means that private practitioners simply cannot make a living anymore.

Nearly half of all doctors in the country operate a private practice, covering a wide range of specialties from cardiology to oncology and family medicine. And these private practitioners play vital roles in ensuring access to health care, particularly in smaller communities. Yet, according to the report, the costs of doing business simply exceed the amount of payment doctors receive, which mostly come from insurance and Medicare reimbursement. The result is that qualified, experienced physicians are going deeper and deeper into debt until they eventually find themselves unable to make payroll and are forced to turn away needy patients.

The article points to a few different explanations for why private practitioners are going out of business, but the main issue that is that doctors don’t get paid primarily by their patients anymore. Instead, third-party payers, especially Medicare, reimburse health services. The result of this is that the doctors don’t get to set their own prices for what they do. Rather, insurers and health regulators pay what they deem fair or sufficient. Often, and not surprisingly, the prices set by Medicare and private insurance companies fail to even cover the cost a doctor incurs to provide a service, leaving the cost of equipment, affiliated personnel time and medications completely uncovered. Those costs — including holding an inventory of expensive drugs, purchasing expensive medical equipment, maintaining a staff — can be enormous.

Another issue is that doctors are trained to be doctors, not small business owners. A private medical practice is a small business, just as a law practice is it is for attorneys, and running one effectively and profitably requires a unique set of skills and an ability to make business decisions that many doctors simply may not have. Many practicing lawyers likely know attorney collegues who are brilliant advocates but poor business owners.

Private medical practitioners going bankrupt and shutting their doors will put a serious dent in health care services across the country. Trial attorneys and "out-of-control" medical malpractice suits are often scapegoated, so kudos to CNNMoney.com for not relying on the knee-jerk response to simply blame the attorneys and placing some blame where it is due.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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  1. Concerned says:
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    If the trial lawyers can see that Doctors are not be properly reimbursed for their services, then why don’t they file a class action lawsuit to protect both Doctors and Patients. Inadequate physician reimbursement is forcing primary doctors to close their practices and potential future doctors are choosing other careers.