A Growing Medical Emergency

Malpractice Insurance
There is a hard reality that lies beyond the glitter of Las Vegas.

Nevada's hospitals are facing a medical crisis that may cause a lost of valuable services to patients, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone.

Dr. Dale Carrison will be forced to close the trauma department at Las Vegas' University Medical Center overnight, because many of his doctors can no longer pay the soaring cost of malpractice insurance.

"The ultimate consequence of this tragedy would be death," said Carrison. "(Doctors) are being asked to pay $160,000 a year in insurance premiums."

The trouble started when one of the largest malpractice insurers, St. Paul, decided to get out of the business after losing $1 billion in the last five years — A period in which the average jury award for malpractice more than doubled. Other insurance companies announced rate increases up to 400 percent and more.

Carrison said, "That's not possible. Doctors make a good salary, but they don't make that kind of money."

This is a growing medical emergency, not just in Nevada, but across the country. Doctors in at least a dozen states have seen the cost of malpractice insurance soar. If doctors can't afford insurance, patients can't get care.

Michelle Leckie is expecting her second baby, but she's had to change doctors.

"I can't see the doctor I chose to see, and that's very hard," said Leckie.

Her original obstetrician, Dr. Steven Kramer, quit delivering babies when his malpractice insurance went from $46,000 a year to $223,000.

Kramer believes that he can only stay in practice for probably two or three months if the premiums stay so high. "After that, I'll probably have to find something else to do," said Kramer.

Or, move to a state where jury awards for malpractice are limited so insurance costs less. But, attorneys say patients who get hurt deserve compensation.

"I don't think one or two bad cases make a doctor a bad doctor; but, that doesn't mean you get a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card because you're a good doctor most of the time," said malpractice attorney Hayley Chambers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kramer won't be adding to the 4,000 or so babies he's delivered. The doors will close overnight at Nevada's biggest trauma center next week, as the nation's troubled health care system faces another challenge.