Florida Ranks Last In ER Care

Here is a distinction that does not make Florida proud.

The state ranked dead last in a national report on the ability for someone in a dire medical need to access emergency care. The study comes from the American College of Emergency Physicians. Florida placed dead last.

Most of us take it for granted that if we are in a medical emergency that we can burst through the doors of the ER and get immediate attention – just like in the movies or on television. That is not the time to find out that this study is true.

Part of the problems is that there are not enough emergency rooms in the state. While the rest of the nation has an average of 19 ERs for every million people, Florida has just seven. And they are crowded. With the numbers of uninsured getting care in an ER as well as the growing ranks of the unemployed, an ER is likely to be a very busy place when you are facing a heart attack or a traumatic injury.

The number of doctors who are willing to work in an ER is also a problem, particularly a specialist. Say you need a hand reattached – you may have to be sent somewhere else.

Many people accuse trial lawyers of driving doctors out of state because they are required to have relatively high medical malpractice insurance. The ER study urges the state to extend legal immunity to doctors who provide emergency care. That would damp the fear of malpractice, which physicians have cited as a reason for staying away from emergency medicine.

But the legislature has dismissed that proposal, arguing that it would mean doctors could not be held accountable for their actions.

Let’s look toward the lucrative industry of Big Insurance to see the origin of high-cost premiums that are making medicine a less desirable field.

In Florida, the average annual medical liability insurance premium is $41,000 for a primary care doctor and $171,000 for a specialist – more than twice the average across the states. And that’s when you can find insurers to write medical liability policies in Florida. Yet no one is looking at Big Insurance and questioning why the premiums are so high at a time when insurance giants are making record profits. Why the disconnect?

Especially when you consider that there is not an increase in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits. The fact is that very few medical malpractice events ever lead to a lawsuit. Most people just don’t want to pursue it or don’t think they can stay in it for the long haul. So many instances of medical malpractice are essentially swept under the rug. Bad doctors are allowed to carry on. The medical profession is reluctant to discipline itself and ferret out bad doctors. It practically never takes away a medical license.

This report suggests that – instead of getting rid of the bad doctors who tend to be the repeat offenders – that the state should reduce the $500,000 soft cap on non-economic damages (pain and suffering) that currently applies to non-emergency care providers. While the state has instituted a $150,000 cap on non-economic damages for emergency care providers, this report suggests that to lure doctors back into practice, the state should consider extending sovereign immunity protection to providers of state and federally mandated emergency care.

Is this a crisis of priorities? This report suggests if you are hurt by one of the bad doc repeat offenders, you will not have any more than a $150,000 cap for pain and suffering.

It sounds a bit more like emergency care for insurance companies than for consumers who have been harmed. Just who are we concerned with helping here?