MIAMI — Doctors protesting the nation's highest malpractice insurance rates curtailed emergency services today in south Florida and threatened to quit treating patients to mark what they called "Disaster Day."
The state's largest malpractice insurer boosted its premiums by up to 42.7% and the second-largest stopped renewing policies altogether.
Hardest hit by the boycott was Broward County, where the number of emergency rooms accepting trauma patients with head and spinal cord injuries shrank from 16 to four.
A 2-year-old girl with seizures was turned down by three hospitals before being taken to Broward General Medical Center.
All Are Potential Victims
"I'm worried about what it's going to do to the people," emergency rescue worker Pete Pavilec said. "We're all potential accident victims."
The president of the Broward County Medical Assn. balked at calling the physicians' action a strike, saying those withdrawing from emergency treatment had no choice.
"The doctors aren't on strike; they simply can't afford to practice," said Dr. Peter Tomasello.
Warren Callaway, a hospital administrator in Margate, said he knew of an obstetrician who was quoted a rate of $160,000 a year for just $250,000 worth of insurance coverage.
$6,000 in Missouri
"That doesn't make much sense, but that's what the insurance company has quoted him," Callaway said. "As a result, he has packed his bags and is moving to Missouri," where he will pay only $6,000.
Half-page advertisements announcing "Disaster Day" were taken out in Miami-area newspapers today by the Dade County Medical Assn., which called the insurance situation "malpractice blackmail."
The ad said many doctors "will have no choice but to quit practicing."
Dr. Richard Glasser, the head of the Dade association, said tourists should avoid south Florida because "if something happens, they may not be able to get treated."
Biggest Ratio of Suits
Malpractice rates for doctors in south Florida are the highest in the country because, among other reasons, the state rates No. 1 in the number of malpractice cases per capita, and No. 3 in the number of million-dollar awards.
CIGNA Corp., Florida's second-largest malpractice insurer, earlier this year notified the state it would drop all individual physicians as their policies ran out after July 1.
St. Paul's Fire and Marine Insurance Co. put into effect a 42.7% rate increase for the highest-risk specialties in Dade and Broward counties beginning today, and has said it plans to withdraw from Florida at the end of the year.