Doctors Leave Stateline

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Skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates are forcing some of the area's most specialized doctors to hang up their stethoscopes or leave the Stateline. 23 News reporter Erica Hurtt talked with one surgeon about why he closed his Rockford practice and what it means for us.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Wright takes on some of the trickiest, most delicate emergencies in the Stateline, or he used to.

"Much like any small business, you have to start saying can I make a living here. If you can't you have to look elsewhere," says Dr. Charles Wright.

Wright stopped seeing patients in August. High malpractice insurance costs and falling Medicare reimbursements forced him to reevaluate, and he's not alone. Two of Rockford's seven neurosurgeons have left.

"The greatest problem it poses to patients is they won't get the access to care that they formally had," says Dr. Wright.

Neurosurgeons saw a 74 percent increase in insurance premiums this year. Some lawmakers and the president have called for malpractice reform, but Rockford attorney Bill Cacciatore says victims have rights too.

"The other side of the question simply is that people ought to have the right to sue when there is in fact malpractice," says Cacciatore.

Cacciatore says this isn't a new problem, but it reaches new heights when the economy dips.

"We think that there is the abuse a lot of it anyway could be attributed to insurance companies raising rates during times when the stock market plunges," Cacciatore adds.

Efforts have been made in Illinois to cap malpractice lawsuit awards, but the Supreme Court overturned the law. Dr Wright says caps aren't the only answer. He says it will take compromise from insurers, attorneys, and doctors. One way some doctors are getting around this is to work at a hospital where their insurance will be paid by their employer. Other doctors are choosing to no longer perform certain procedures like risky births.