Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Physician Retirees Find It Costly to Volunteer. (Roadblocks to Care)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Physician Retirees Find It Costly to Volunteer. (Roadblocks to Care)

Article excerpt

Retired physicians across the country are discovering that it can get expensive to volunteer their services at a free clinic.

Dr. Martin Gonzalez, a retired physician in Oak Park, Ill., was turned away from a homeless shelter after he offered his medical services for free.

"They said if I didn't have malpractice insurance, I couldn't work for them," he said in an interview.

Discouraged by the news, Dr. Gonzalez said he's trying to find another organization for which he can volunteer. The village of Oak Park is trying to get the state's Good Samaritan law, which protects health care professionals who provide care in emergency situations, to cover retired physicians who want to work, he said.

As Dr. Gonzalez found out, almost all organizations still require that their volunteer physicians have malpractice insurance.

"When they can afford it, organizations will cover the cost," said Gayle Goldin, director of community partnerships with Volunteers in Health Care in New York City, a nonprofit program that assists providers who want to organize volunteer-led medical services for the uninsured.

Dr. Gonzalez's situation is indicative of physicians across the country who want to volunteer their time after they retire but can't afford the insurance. Struggles with obtaining and affording malpractice insurance have plagued retirees for at least a decade.

But it's worse now with the current malpractice insurance situation.

"Because there's been so much focus on malpractice [insurance], the situation has come to light for volunteer physicians," Ms. Goldin told this newspaper.

Some states offer more coverage perks and employment opportunities for retired physicians than others. Many have charitable immunity laws that protect volunteer physicians from liability either by raising the negligence standard of care or indemnifying the volunteer physicians with liability protection as if they were government employees.

Retired physicians in Florida who want to volunteer their time at a free clinic, for example, "can become an agent of the state and then don't have to buy any insurance," said Dr. Dennis Saver, a family physician in Vero Beach, Fla. However, if they want to get a medical license, they'd need liability insurance, "which would be very expensive if it could even be obtained at this time."

Only 12 states with charitable immunity laws, however, "specifically target retired physicians," Ms. Goldin said.

In Kansas, a law that's supposed to assist retired physicians may prove to be a roadblock for one group interested in establishing a clinic that would provide supplemental care to seniors. …

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