Liability Reform Tops Agenda as AMA Meets in Atlanta; Georgia Legal System Remains on 'Crisis List' for Hindering Patient Access to Doctors

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Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- It's been two years since the American Medical Association placed medical liability reform at the top of its legislative agenda.

But despite efforts in Washington to address rising liability insurance costs, a number of states, including Georgia, remain on the group's "in crisis" list for having legal systems it considers hindering patient access to doctors.

Delegates meeting in Atlanta this week reaffirmed their stance that medical liability reform will be the physician group's top legislative priority in the coming year, and Georgia doctors said they will continue to push similar reform to the General Assembly.

"It's absolutely essential that state legislatures and Congress act to help those 20 states in crisis," said Donald Palmisano, the American Medical Association's immediate past president.

He said that without necessary reforms, patients are getting shortchanged because specialty doctors, such as obstetricians, are leaving their fields or home hospitals solely because they can no longer afford liability premiums.

Georgia's doctors are not immune from the hikes, said Joseph Bailey, a rheumatology physician at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics in Augusta and chairman of the Medical Association of Georgia.

He said that five years ago, the Augusta area had about 12 practicing neurosurgeons but now only has five.

"Those kinds of numbers are represented in even more profound effect in smaller communities," Bailey said. "We have areas in Georgia that have no neurosurgeon or trauma center."

A 2003 study by the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce showed that 17 percent of doctors stopped providing high-risk procedures the year before.

State legislators already have announced plans to reintroduce reforms during the upcoming session in January. …