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August 5, 2004

Report Debunks So-Called Crisis of Doctors Fleeing Oregon; Number of Doctors Across State Has Increased, Not Declined

Increase in OB/GYNs, Emergency Room Doctors, Neurosurgeons and General Surgeons Has Outpaced Rise during 1990s Era of Damage Caps

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The ranks of doctors have steadily increased in both rural and urban Oregon, not declined, as claimed by the medical lobby, which is pushing a constitutional restriction on the right of injured patients to sue for medical malpractice, according to a new report by Public Citizen and Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG).

In fact, the number of active doctors in Oregon rose by 11.9 percent from 2000 to 2004, virtually the same rate of increase (12 percent) as in 1995 to 1999, the period between the enactment of a $500,000 cap on non-economic damage awards and its repeal by the state Supreme Court, the report finds. The same steady increase was also evident in Oregon’s rural areas, where the ranks of practicing doctors grew by 11.9 percent from 2000 to 2004.

Meanwhile, the number of key medical specialists in Oregon, such as those practicing OB/GYN, emergency room medicine, neurological surgery and general surgery, increased at a faster rate from 2000 to 2004 than from 1995 to 1999, the report also documents.

“The claims of the HMOs and the medical lobby that doctors are fleeing Oregon because of malpractice lawsuits and a temporary spike in insurance rates is outright and patently false,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “A careful examination of the available, official numbers confirms that no physician exodus has occurred in either urban or rural Oregon.”

The 31-page report – Oregon’s Increased Number of Doctors: Government Data Refutes Medical Lobby Claims  relies on the most up-to-date federal, state and private-sector data available.

“What is striking,” said Steve Dixon, OSPIRG’s consumer advocate, “is that the number of doctors in Oregon has increased at the same rate in the four years before and after 1999, when the state Supreme Court struck down the cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages. Even without any malpractice damage limit, doctors have continued to come to Oregon, hang out their shingle and practice medicine.”

Highlights of the report include:

  • According to Oregon Board of Medical Examiners data, the number of active Oregon doctors specializing in:
    • Obstetrics and gynecology rose 17.1 percent from 2000 to 2004, compared to 15 percent from 1995 to 1999;
    • Emergency medicine rose 25.8 percent from 2000 to 2004, compared to 15.4 percent from 1995 to 1999;
    • Neurological surgery increased 21.7 percent from 2000 to 2004, compared to 13.9 percent from 1995 to 1999; and,
    • General surgery increased 34.4 percent from 2000 to 2004, compared to a 4.3 percent decrease from 1995 to 1999.
  • The number of doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in rural Oregon rose 26.7 percent from 2000 to 2004, according to the Oregon Office of Rural Health. This rate of increase is 56 percent greater than the 17.1 percent increase in OB/GYNs in all of Oregon during the same period.
  • The number of doctors practicing emergency medicine in rural Oregon rose 27.5 percent from 2000 to 2004, according to the Oregon Office of Rural Health. This rate of increase is 6.5 percent greater than the 25.8 percent increase in emergency room doctors in all of Oregon during the same period.
  • Insurance costs for Oregon’s rural doctors recently have been dramatically reduced thanks to a state insurance assistance program, the State Accident Insurance Fund, enacted in 2003. Beginning in 2004, doctors in rural Oregon began receiving reductions of up to 80 percent in medical malpractice insurance costs.In 2004, 1,002 doctors are participating in the program, according to the governor’s office.
  • There is a decreased demand for obstetrics services in rural Oregon because the average age in many areas is rapidly increasing as young families move away in search of better-paying jobs. For example, the median age in Reedsport in 1980 was 31. By 2003 it had increased to 47. In 1991, doctors practicing in Reedsport delivered about 100 babies a year, but in 2003 they delivered only about 40.

“It’s disgraceful that the medical lobby is misleading the citizens of Oregon by spreading false information to influence the outcome of the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Caps on payments to people injured by medical malpractice are not the determining factor in whether doctors practice medicine in a state. In fact, survey after survey has shown that the most important factors influencing where doctors choose to live and practice are wages and the quality of life, from education to recreation to the arts.”

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